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Jason Wallis Final ‘Harry Potter’ a fitting, crowd-pleasing conclusion

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, July 22, 2011 8:36 am

The summer movie season, after a horrifyingly dull couple of months, may come to a decent close after all. The impeccably written and acted “Horrible Bosses” will be around for a few more weeks (catch it if you haven’t, or face my ire), and the final “Harry Potter” recently opened to great audience approval.

This weekend brings the promising “Captain America: The First Avenger” (we’ll have a look at that in a couple weeks, along with “Cowboys & Aliens,” as my next column will be focused on food in movies, in order to jibe with the theme of the rest of the special section). Following that will be “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “30 Minutes or Less” and “Conan the Barbarian” (or the “Fright Night” remake, depending on my fancy) to close out the season. In the midst, expect a summer recap and a hopeful look forward to the fall.

Meantime, join me in bidding a fond farewell to what is sure to be one of the most enduring film series in all of cinema.

I’m a bit too old to be counted among the Harry Potter fans who grew up with the book and film series as an integral part of their childhood and adolescence, but I still feel a sense of nostalgia when looking back on the past 14 years.

Now, I don’t think that J.K. Rowling’s novels constitute fine literature, and to believe that the film series has been anything but a cash-in is quite naïve. (If these were envisioned as real films, then the studio would have brought in real filmmakers for the duration, as they toyed with doing when they hired Alfonso Cuaron to direct the third entry.)

Still, there’s something to be said for a book franchise that has almost single-handedly instilled a love of reading into a whole generation of youths, and a movie franchise that has brought genuine joy to hundreds of millions of people. In the end, the positive residual effects of Pottermania easily trump the cynicism and greed that went into its creation. And despite its status as a studio product, I defy any old-fashioned, entertainment-seeking moviegoer to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and come away dissatisfied.

True, the film lacks a unifying magic -- a magic that was present in Cuaron’s masterful “Prisoner of Azkaban,” Mike Newell’s deftly structured “Goblet of Fire” and, strangely enough, David Yates’ own lyrical and gothic “Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” It moves far too quickly and, at barely over two hours, is too brief to allow the story and characters room to breathe. It is only during the epilogue, set 19 years later and wisely faithful to Rowling’s novel, that things slowed down enough for me to feel a tinge of true emotion. (Sorry, but the obligatory self-reflective scenes involving Harry’s murdered parents have always left me dry-eyed, mostly because James and Lily Potter aren’t exactly the most sympathetic characters, now are they? Yeah, I went there.)

These may seem like major criticisms, but in the context of a film that devotes fully half of its running length to the depiction of the climactic Battle of Hogwarts, they don’t really amount to much. This is a film of spectacle, chiefly concerned with grandiose visuals and rampaging trolls and awesome wizard fights. And on that level, it delivers. Despite his role as studio stooge, Yates does a serviceable job of assembling the action and setting the stage for Harry’s final confrontation with the dark wizard Lord Voldemort. The result is a satisfying (if somewhat truncated) conclusion to the epic struggle between good and evil that has left fans entranced over the span of three decades.

Casting has always been key for the “Harry Potter” series, and in this last installment even secondary characters get their chance in the spotlight. Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman as Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape, respectively, each get the opportunity to showcase hidden aspects of their characters, and they handle the shifts like the seasoned pros they are. Longtime players like Julie Walters as Mrs. Weasley and Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom get their own personal badass moments, and series newcomer Ciaran Hinds has a small but effective role as Aberforth, Albus’ brother.

But, naturally, Daniel Radcliffe is the star of the show, and so much of the movie depends on his effectiveness in personalizing Harry’s clichéd “hero’s journey,” and making it real and urgent for the viewer. Through eight films he has grown both as a performer of spectacle and a more detail-oriented actor, and his confidence in this role now is quite striking. He’s carved out a nice career for himself outside this series and is well-liked in the industry, and I expect that we’ll be seeing a lot more from this naturally gifted young man in the decades to come. But if nothing else, he has at least played a vital role in crafting a fitting, crowd-pleasing conclusion to one of the most beloved film series of all time.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is rated PG-13 for violence, intense scenes and mild profanity.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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