July 14 (Bloomberg) -- “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” opens with Harry kneeling at the beachside grave of house elf Dobby. Death is ever-present in the thrilling finale of the top-grossing franchise in movie history.
Several major characters from the world of Silver Sickles and Whomping Willows are killed off as Harry moves inexorably toward a climactic showdown with evil Lord Voldemort.
During his decade-long run as the orphaned wizard, Daniel Radcliffe has grown from a gawky 11-year-old boy into a 21-year-old leading man. Likewise, the movies about J.K. Rowling’s orphaned wizard have matured from mostly juvenile entertainment into darker, more sophisticated fare.
It’s the fourth straight “Potter” film directed by David Yates, and his familiarity with the material shows.
Those craving pulsing action and eye-popping special effects will have to wait a while, but the delayed gratification is worth it. You’ll see the collapse of the Covered Bridge, Harry fleeing a blazing fire, a giant spider and an ethereal scene in a light-bathed train station.
The acting and the storytelling have improved since “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” opened in 2001. Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, who were all kids back then, initially showed their inexperience playing bosom buddies Harry, Ron and Hermione from the Hogwarts School. Now they’re veteran actors capable of adult emotions and subtle acting tricks.
Once again, the cast includes a Who’s Who of British stars, including Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, John Hurt as Ollivander, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. If nothing else, “Harry Potter” has been the biggest blessing for British actors since Shakespeare.
In “Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” Harry and his friends try to destroy the remaining Horcruxes that make Lord Voldemort immortal. But the killer of Harry’s parents is armed with the powerful Elder Wand, one of three Deathly Hallows that help him ward off death.
The final confrontation between Harry and the Dark Lord takes place in the ruins of Hogwarts, where it all began. The story has come full circle and, for Harry’s devoted fans, the end will surely be bittersweet.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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