Deathly Hallows Part II "opens at the close" of Part I. Wasting no time at all, the movie jumps right into the conclusion of the 8-film series, and maintains a relatively breakneck pace for the next two hours. There is no attempt to play catch-up for the uninitiated. At this point, you're either a Potter fan or not. For the fans, enjoy, because Part II is easily the best film in the series and the one Potter film with a legitimate chance of a Best Picture nomination come Oscar season. For those of you who couldn't care less about the boy wizard, well...I pity you. You're missing out on the first 5-star movie of the year, and the best I've seen so far.
I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't a fan of director David Yates when he took over the franchise with the fifth film, Order of the Phoenix. He had a nice, gloomy visual style, but both Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince felt choppy to me and the big emotional moments fell flat. Things started to turn around with November's Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Yates has officially earned his stripes with Part II. It certainly helps that this final movie is the shortest and most action-packed of any of the others, and has the most at stake.
No need to get into plot details here - just read the book. That being said, I'm no slave to JK Rowling's text, and Steve Kloves' script really captures the spirit of the book, even when he deviates from it.
At this point, the filmmakers have gotten so good at seamlessly blending in magical special effects and complicated action set-pieces with the rest of the story elements that it just looks effortless. There are a number of busy battle sequences that are as big and bombastic as anything you'd see in the Lord of the Rings, but they never overstay their welcome, and each leaves you wanting more.
Warner Bros. and the producers really took a gamble on the young cast back in '01, and, boy, has it paid off. To have seen these kids grow up in front of our very own eyes over the last decade is perhaps the movie's greatest special effect. Daniel Radcliffe has gotten better and better with each movie, and he really sticks the landing in Part II, more than holding his own against Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort.
Speaking of Voldemort, it was a real joy to see Fiennes tear up the screen and finally be given the chance to flesh out his evil character. For the first time, Voldemort is not some one-note menace. I really liked some of the little moments toward the end, like when Draco defects and Voldy gives him an awkward hug, or when Neville starts to give his rallying speech, and Voldy clenches his fist, doing everything in his power not to kill Neville right there on the spot.
Fiennes is just one of many stand-outs in the elder cast. The Potter movies have always featured an impressive collection of British acting royalty, none more endearing than Alan Rickman's Snape. A fan favorite for obvious reasons, Rickman gets some really juicy scenes to play in Part II. The scene where Harry takes Snape's memories to the pensieve and learns Snape's true motivations is the best five minutes of filmmaking I've seen this year. Yates allows this scene to bob and weave through flashbacks and memories with expert skill and precision. It's an important scene - probably the most important in both the book and the movie, and everybody just kills it. The editing, the visual effects, the music, Rickman's acting - all stellar.
At various points throughout the movie, I found myself alternately thrilled, wowed, excited, sad, and deeply moved. Harry Potter hasn't been just "for kids" in quite some time. These movies go to some really dark places, especially in this one, with beloved characters dying left and right. Deathly Hallows Part II is consistently great, brimming with confidence, grace, and style. As the movie ended and I left the theater, I was struck - not just by its quality, but with the realization that we will likely never see a series of films like these anytime soon. Harry Potter is something very magical indeed.