It’s been quite an adventure. Ten years, eight films, four directors, three leads, two armies and one victory. The Harry Potter series has been a behemoth and bastion of British cinema and despite being of sporadic quality – the third holding the coveted high watermark position – audiences have remained loyal, with their support levitating this young series into the highest grossing in history. We’ve seen friendships forged, loved ones lost and even evil risen from the dead. And through the series’ progressive darkening we’ve been constantly pushed to see the magic from the malice.
No difference here then as the end is nigh and the final battle is upon us; and there’s no escaping the truth that all manner of wizard folk and magical beasties were harmed in the making of this production. But what a final battle it makes as director David Yates drops the languorous teenage angst, and sexual frustration, that were hallmarks of the more adolescent entries and instead conjures a crescendo of magical mayhem, a superlative adult-toned mash-up of fist pumping action, compelling narrative and profound emotion.
This grandiosity is in stark contrast to the previous film, a listless staging piece which was all dry set-up and no excitement. Basically the cinematic equivalent of one of those outrageously annoying YouTube adverts you’re forced to sit through. It played its thankless task of lights and camera but the final cue has been tantalisingly close for the past year and Part II’s grand finale doesn’t disappoint. Yates throws all out action at us, scene after scene. Probably best though as we needed something to distract from starring at Emma Watson.
Beginning moments after we left off in Part I the team are three horcruxes down and four to go. And after a brief, if slightly awkward, plot refresher we’re launched into a blistering bank break in (and then out) and onwards to Harry’s reunion with Dumbledore’s Army and the protection of Hogwarts from Voldemort’s impending onslaught. Here the film is at its most enjoyable. On the cusp of battle we witness melancholy and humanity in equal part as we’re engulfed in a tidal wave of the inevitability of what’s to come.
The battle that dominates the second half – minus an emotionally charged flashback of Snape – exhibits real craftsmanship. Wizards and witches clash like never before, finally realising on a massive scale what was hinted at in the fight in the Department of Mysteries in The Order of the Phoenix. Harry, Ron and Hermoine’s desperate race to complete their mission is located in what never fails to feel less than a titanic clash of good and evil. Swooping vistas of the castle portray the staggering scale of devastation, only to zoom in to reveal intimate moments of conflict that make the whole. As red and green vie for control it proves to be an exhilarating cinematic experience of the highest order.
But it’s never really been about the action, despite the fantastic skill that’s on show here. The battle’s always been within the characters themselves. Courage vs anger, self-preservation vs honour and ultimately love vs fear. And thankfully everyone’s brought their A-game, even Radcliffe – who’s perpetually been an awkward onscreen presence – exudes charisma and likeability. Voldemort, the only really interesting character in the series, gets slightly more poignant screen time as his facial contortions reveal the diminishing segments of his soul. And Snape as always oozes his own slimy irresistibility. Indeed as a trophy cabinet of adult British character actors the series has always soared on the strength of its performances.
It’s not a perfect feature but at this stage it would seem churlish to criticise a film that marks the end of an era both in literature and cinema. The books and films have opened up millions of hearts and minds to imagination, wonder and the value of friendship, loyalty and love and that translates to the screen here. No film in the series has ever felt so infused with passion or emotion and one feels the emotions on screen during the final battle likely echo those off.
Harry’s glasses have broken countless times, Ron’s fainted tedious times – and even thrown up slugs – and Hermione’s relentlessly answered questions no one even asked. But for all their idiosyncrasies we’ve taken to these characters, this place, and this world, you could say, as if by magic. As those on the side of good stand together it’s impossible not to be moved to stand with them and as goodbyes go it’s a triumphant send off for the most beloved and successful children’s story of all time. Move over Azkaban, because Potter and co have saved the best till last.