Equipped with a more appropriate sense of what the Potter saga is and isn’t, I had a lot of fun at Deathly Hallows: Part II. Directorial competence, British thespians, digital dragons — what’s not to like? In what other summer blockbuster does a noseless Ralph Fiennes get to ham it up with a long-haired Alan Rickman, while the audience plays “Which Masterpiece Theatre do I know him from?” with even the most minor supporting character? (Yes, that’s John Hurt as the wand-shop proprietor Ollivander, and Ciarán Hinds hidden behind the beard of Aberforth Dumbledore . . .) In what other long-running franchise has a cluster of child stars — Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, and the lovely Emma Watson as Hermione — grown into adult actors of impressive range and depth? (If only George Lucas had been as lucky in his casting choices for Anakin Skywalker.)
Plot summary is pretty much superfluous at this point: If you’ve read the books, you know what’s coming, and if you haven’t, all you need to know is that the great battle between good and evil is finally upon us, pitting Harry and Co. against Fiennes’s Lord Voldemort and his black-cloaked Death Eaters. There are various talismans (the titular “hallows” among them) to be collected and either used or destroyed, and a lot of business about which wand will answer to which wizard in the final showdown, but happily the screenwriters have streamlined the often incomprehensible details. (You may not understand exactly why certain things happen, but at least you won’t feel like you need a spreadsheet to keep track of the magic.)
Unfortunately, the obligations of fidelity have left Rowling’s unwieldy plot architecture more or less intact, which means that the buildup to the grand finale is twice interrupted: once to fill in crucial backstory, and once for a long jaw-jaw-jaw between Harry and the ghost of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). But since that crucial backstory involves the tragic story of Severus Snape (Rickman), by far the most interesting character in the Potterverse, I can’t complain too much — especially since (confession time, dear reader!) the Snape sequence actually had me on the verge of tears.
When Deathly Hallows the book came out four years ago, the entertainment writer Dan Kois marshaled a battalion of perceptive criticisms and then added: “I freely admit that 12-year-old me would have thought this was about the greatest book ever written.” Get in touch with that inner 12-year-old, and Deathly Hallows the movie will seem pretty awesome too.