As the second half of what is essentially a single film, Deathly Hallows: Part. 2 opens in medias res, with Harry, Ron and Hermione mourning the death of Dobby the house-elf and recovering from a narrow escape from the dungeons of Malfoy Manor (aka Death Eater HQ). After interrogating the other recently liberated captives (Ollivander, a wand specialist, and Griphook, a goblin banker), the trio embark upon their final effort to recover and destroy the last few Horcruxes, hoping to kill Harry's arch-nemesis, Voldemort, in the process. Their journey takes them first to Gringott's (the wizard bank) then back to Hogwarts, where the final battle between Voldemort's genocidal Death Eaters and the rest of the wizarding world will be contested.
There are many things Deathly Hallows: Part. 2 does particularly well. For instance, the special effects are some of the best in the series, particularly the way magic is portrayed, with greater organic textures — spells evoke flesh, mercury and lily pads, rather than abstract lasers. In one memorable action sequence, the solidest, most physically present dragon I've ever seen on screen steals the show.
Deathly Hallows: Part. 2, like its counterpart, also excels in quiet moments of emotional intensity. Near the opening, Harry sits quietly by the grave of recently buried house-elf Dobby. The stark white light and sound of water create a moment of intensely private grief. Later, Harry gains brief control over a magical object that allows him to talk to his dead loved ones. The scene is un-scored, raw without being overdone, and completely disarming. These understated moments, where the simplicity and emotionally devastating quality of the writing shines through, are the best in the film.
This deft hand doesn't touch all aspects though. While the first two acts are very well paced, the third falters and becomes muddled. Several important character deaths take place in the final scenes and are handled too briefly, without time for emotional impact or even realization. Many other characters have their moments of triumph in this final act, and some are handled beautifully. Neville Longbottom's transition to hero, for instance, is brilliant. Molly Weasely, on the other hand, delivers a line fans of the books will be looking forward to, but the scene of her great moment of bravery is truncated, given less importance than deserved.
The greatest sin the film commits, however, is the way professor Snape's moment of redemption is cut short. His story is given an entire chapter in the novel, which allows for the exact depth and breadth of his relationships and motivations to be revealed, but in the film, they're reduced to a beautiful but ultimately shallow caricature.
Shockingly for a film split into two parts to avoid this very issue, the last act feels rushed. Clocking in at barely two hours, I would gladly have sat through another 20 minutes to have these moments expanded and handled with increased grace and respect. Hopefully this will be corrected in an extended DVD/Blu-Ray release.
There was a moment at the end when I thought that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was about to do something extraordinary. When the screen finally faded to black, I genuinely believed it would have the courage to correct the most oft-cited and egregious flaw in the series: the overwrought, overwritten, unnecessary ending. Then, right when I was convinced this film was the greatest triumph in the series, it resumed and the ending (albeit a truncated version) was inflicted upon the audience. It was the disappointment I expected, but that didn't mean it was welcome.
There's no question Deathly Hallows: Part. 2 will be a great success; Harry Potter fans are mad for more material and the films do satisfy. Both Part 1 and Part 2 of the final instalment are the best films made to date (with the exception of the third, The Prisoner of Azkaban).
With a little more time to allow the characters their individual triumphs and defeats, and if the film had committed itself to the bravery of cutting a bloated and unnecessary ending instead of just toying with it, Deathly Hallows: Part. 2 would have been nearly perfect. As it stands, the film is good, fuel for slavering fans (present company included), and a flawed but satisfying close of a flawed, but deeply beloved series.