March 18 2013 12:00 AM

'Deathly Hallows, Part Two' brings the Harry Potter series to a sensational finale

“Join me in the Forbidden Forest, and confront your fate!” Talk about an offer you can’t refuse. The challenge, of course, comes from the supremely sinister sorcerer Lord Voldemort, who makes one final bid to do away with his archenemy, Harry Potter, in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two,” the suitably sensational finale to a series that has kept much of the world happily spellbound for the past 10 years.
When Warner Bros. originally announced the last of J.K. Rowling's Potter novels would be split into two films, many observers commented it was purely a move to maximize revenue. In fact, it turns out to have been a perfectly valid decision from a storytelling standpoint: Having covered the first two-thirds of the novel in “Deathly Hallows, Part One” leaves director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves free to concentrate on making sure that the cataclysmic clash between Potter’s legions and the devotees of Voldemort is everything fans have been anticipating.
They deliver in spades. The Battle of Hogwarts, the show-stopping centerpiece of the book, unfolds onscreen as a magnificently messy parade of wand-wielding wizards, ax-swinging ogres, stampeding giant spiders, collapsing bridges, tumbling towers — suffice to say, no one is likely to doze off.
More than any other Potter film, “Deathly Hallows, Part Two” pushes action to the forefront since most of the drama (the tensions between Harry and Ron, the revelations about the seven Horcruxes that have helped Voldemort to thrive, the branding of Harry and his friends as outlaws, etc.) was packed into the first half. This is not a standalone piece, nor was it meant to be. Unless Warner Bros. was open to the idea of a four-hour-long “Hallows” epic, it’s impossible to picture how such a complex adventure could have been squeezed into one film.
Aside from Alan Rickman’s crafty reading of the two-faced Hogwarts headmaster Severus Snape and Ralph Fiennes’ hideous, hissing Voldemort, a villain capable of turning your arteries to ice, the performances of the central characters are generally more subdued than usual. The complicated connections between the maturing Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) that figured prominently in “Deathly Hallows, Part One” are almost entirely absent this time around. As the trio rushes to complete their search-and-destroy mission (there are still three hidden Horcruxes as the story resumes), they have no time for jealousy and recriminations and, once Voldemort and his minions converge on Hogwarts, personal problems are quickly set aside.
Admittedly, the decision to focus on spectacle does leave several well-established personalities without much to do. It’s slightly disappointing that the frizzy-haired freak Bellatrix Lestrange (played to witchy perfection by Helena Bonham Carter), nasty Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and sunny space cadet Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) barely have a few moments to reassert themselves before disappearing into the fog of war, and don’t blink if you want to catch one last glimpse of Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Fred and George Weasley (James and Oliver Phelps) and the flighty Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson).
However, the Battle of Hogwarts does allow a former wallflower to bloom: Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) not only gets his long-overdue chance to shine in “Deathly Hallows, Part Two,” he also ends up with more dialogue and screen time in the space of one film than he has had in the entire series up to this point. Lewis enthusiastically seizes the opportunity, creating a delightfully unlikely, slightly unsteady hero who demonstrates considerable fortitude, if not much in the way of finesse.
Although it moves at a breathless pace — if you've missed the past couple of Potter films, this is not the place to try to catch up — "Deathly Hallows, Part Two" includes several scenes that are likely to be remembered as highlights of the saga, including a wonderfully eerie trip into the cavernous vaults of  the goblin-operated Gringotts bank and a startling send-off for one of the major players, who perishes at the fangs of Voldemort's vicious pet snake, Nagini. That moment, in which we see a silhouette bouncing helplessly against a filthy window, is reminiscent of the veiled violence in the Val Lewton chillers of the 1940s: It's more frightening because we don't see what has happened.
Finally, there is one more trippy dip into the pensive pool, in which a swirling mash-up of memories, flashbacks and revelations fills in most of the previously unanswered questions about Harry's heritage and Snape's place in it. It's a fine curtain raiser for that climactic showdown in the Forbidden Forest and its aftermath amid the ruins of Hogwarts.  One can only imagine the sort of pressure Yates, Kloves and the cast must have felt in staging these final scenes that bring the series to its conclusion, yet the finale is every bit as assured and stirring as the rest of the movie. As in the novel, there is a brief postscript, set 19 years later, which efficiently and effectively brings the entire tale full circle.
Whether you've been a faithful follower of all things Harry, a casual admirer or a naysayer, it's impossible to dismiss the colossal impact these eight films have had. "Deathly Hallows, Part Two" sustains the high quality and superb production values that have always been a hallmark of the Harry Potter epics. For millions of moviegoers, this is the end of the ultimate adventure; it's doubtful many will go home grumbling.