I’m sure Warner Bros executives are silently weeping for the end of what’s probably become the studio’s biggest ever cash cow: HARRY POTTER. I’m also sure they’re sitting in their offices right now and concocting various ways of milking the franchise bone dry with an endless parade of DVD/Blu-ray special editions, theatrical re-releases, and the hope that J.K. Rowling will write another Harry Potter book sooner rather than later. I had absolutely no doubt that I would enjoy the final installment of the HARRY POTTER series, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2. With the exception of the first two Chris Columbus-directed HARRY POTTER films, Warner Bros. has done an admirable job hiring great directors to bring the books to the screen. The last four films have been directed by David Yates and he has brought a gritty and dark realism to the series that perfectly matches the more adult tone that developed in the later books. It takes quite a bit of courage to bring HARRY POTTER to the screen and its an especially difficult task adapting the final book and ending the entire series without pissing off the diehard, rabid fans that show up to book releases dressed in costumes. Although its not without flaws, Yates has ultimately succeeded in finally ending HARRY POTTER and giving us a satisfactory ending to the series.

I won’t bother going into the plotline of HARRY POTTER 7.5 because anyone reading this review will probably have read the books and if they have, they will know how convoluted those stories can be to summarize in a paragraph. Suffice it to say that this film adapts the 2nd half of the last book. We begin shortly after Harry has buried Dobby, the elf and he prepares to enter the bank vaults to find the next Horcrux to destroy (which, if you watch closely, you’ll see a great homage to the beginning of the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). This last film basically counts down to Harry’s fated showdown with Voldemort. The students and teachers of Hogwarts finally take their stand against the Death Eaters and Voldemort and an epic battle between good and evil takes place with Harry and Voldemort right in the middle of it.

If you have not read the books, this film will come off as a jumbled, confusing mess that will require a second viewing to fully understand the story. I say this because its been awhile since I read the last book so I went into this film having almost all but forgotten the story. Furthermore, I took my mother, a self-professed Harry Potter fanatic who has never read the books but has seen all the movies and absolutely loves them. She was able to glean bits and pieces of the story to HARRY POTTER 7.5, but she was thoroughly confused by what was going on. The films have been criticized in the past for the liberties the filmmakers have taken in what to include and what not to include from the books. Because the movies began to be filmed before the final book was completed, seemingly unimportant elements from the first books that became important in later books were not in the early films. As a result, developments occur in the later films, especially in the last two films, that cannot be appreciated nor understood by those who never read any of the books. In HARRY POTTER 7 and 7.5, Yates was forced to include elements from the final books in the last film that were either never present in earlier films or completely underdeveloped. Consequently, important scenes occur that go way over the audience’s head.

I think Warner Bros. recognized this problem, which is partly why it decided to split the last book into two films (the main reason being to make more $$$). It figured that with THE DEATHLY HALLOWS being the last book, it should for once not leave out anything from the book and present the audience with a faithful and complete adaptation of the book. I commend Warner Bros. for doing this, but I wish the studio had made this decision from the very beginning with Book 1.

Once of the most marvelous things about the HARRY POTTER film series is the physical transformation of our three main characters, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Over the course of 10 years, these actors have so fully embodied their characters that you no longer see them as acting. The chemistry between the actors is natural and fluid, which is a far cry from their early days in the HARRY POTTER films when their performances essentially amounted to the quality of work you would see in a local school play. Rupert Grint has especially improved throughout the series and has developed a fine sense of comic timing that provides much needed comic relief during the film’s dark moments.

Its probably a testament to the popularity of the HARRY POTTER books and films that so many famous actors are present in the final installment. Some of them, like Emma Thompson, are only onscreen for a few moments and they don’t even say a word. Aside from the wonderfully imaginative storyline J.K. Rowling has woven, the HARRY POTTER films provide the added pleasure of casting many of Britain’s finest actors. Each film has been a who’s who of Britain’s greatest thespians and in this final installment, you see almost all of them. I was especially pleased to watch Maggie Smith adopt a take charge attitude as Professor McGonagall when she takes on Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and takes back control of Hogwarts Castle.

To my biggest surprise, I was a little underwhelmed by Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Voldemort. Perhaps this is because Fiennes is one of my favorite all-time actors and my expectations of his performance were much higher than anyone else who appears in the film. It looked like Fiennes got into his role a little too much and overplayed his role. He didn’t Arguably, it may not be Fiennes’ fault considering that Voldemort is supposed to basically be evil personified. At the same time, I wish that Fiennes had brought a bit more subtlety and guile to the character, which I think would have made him more sinister. Instead, many of the scenes with him are just him screaming and being pissed. The character doesn’t exhibit a lot of range and as a result, Voldemort fails to attain Darth Vader status as being a timeless villain.

My other issue with HARRY POTTER 7.5 was its lack of epic suspense that I felt in reading the last book. This film is supposed to be a balls-out fight to the finish between Voldemort and his Death Eaters and the teachers and students of Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling creates a huge canvas upon which mayhem and destruction occurs on a Lord of the Rings level. The film has one moment that hinted toward an epic showdown and that scene is where Professor McGonagall reclaims control of the castle and creates a magical protective dome over Hogwarts while the castle’s statute soldiers are called forth to protect the castle from Voldemort and his army. After that, we see a few very short battle scenes and briefly witness the death of a few key characters. However, aside from that, there isn’t much else except for background battle sounds as Harry and his friends seek out the remaining Horcruxes before confronting Voldemort.

Even for a book that’s split into two films, I felt that Yates still required more time to properly unfold the entire story. HARRY POTTER 7.5 actually felt rushed at times because Yates was trying to cram so much into the final hours. Because of this, the film lacks any sense of emotion. I can’t remember the last book that I read that made me feel as emotional as the final Harry Potter book did and this is what I felt was sorely missing from the last film. There’s no sense of finality and closure at the end of this film like you see in LOTR: RETURN OF THE KING. Rather, the film just ends in an almost clinical fashion that lacks any heart.

I know I may come off as sounding like I didn’t like HARRY POTTER 7.5, but that’s not true. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this film and its 2+ hours running time fly by. My criticism of the film stems from the (perhaps too high) expectation that I had of the final movie, especially in light of the previous installments of the series. I was expecting RETURN OF THE KING and that’s unfortunately not what I got.