Ever since a spindly 11-year-old first picked up a piece of holly wood containing a phoenix feather more than a decade ago, the world has been entranced by his adventures in print and on the screen. Though the titular character of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 may be putting away his wand, his magic will continue to live on.

The mettle of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has been pushed to the breaking point before, but as he grows closer to his final showdown with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), it becomes more and more apparent that the teenage wizard may not live to tell the tale.

In Harry’s quest to find and eliminate horcruxes, the fragments of Voldemort’s soul, he and companions Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) are getting closer to their goal. In order to complete the task set to them by the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the trio travels back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, their covert actions haven’t been kept as secret from The Dark Lord as they should have been. No sooner are Harry and friends back in their alma mater when the school is besieged by Voldemort and his ever-increasing legions of followers. As both sides gear up for a magical battle, the likes of which Hogwarts has never seen, the boy at the center of all the fuss has some difficult choices to make.

Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson have never appeared more grown up than they are in the final movie in the Harry Potter series. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, it would be easy for them to go in for overdone maudlin performances. But the three actors pick up right where they left off from Part 1, determined to see their duty through to the end.

Ever since taking on the role halfway through the series, Fiennes has consistently made Voldemort a chilling villain, but now it’s apparent that he was just getting started. With his horcrux safeguards disappearing one by one, the blackguard with the black heart is also starting to unravel mentally and physically, looking more and more haggard by the moment. And, for a guy who already looks like death warmed over, it’s all downhill from there, even with faithful disciples like the unhinged Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy (Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory). But, not all the Death Eaters are quite so easy to figure out, with Alan Rickman getting his best — if briefest — moments as Severus Snape, with his final farewell heart-wrenching enough to bring tears to your eyes.

The blend of emotion and nonstop action brings the Harry Potter saga to a fantastic peak as everything wraps up with everyone’s favorite young wizard. Director David Yates ends his tenure in the series with a most suitable bang, rather than a whimper, as Hogwarts is ripped asunder and all falls to Harry to set the situation right. The magic of the “wizarding” world is at its best from the opening plunder of Gringotts Bank to the less tangible final moments, set long after Harry and Voldemort’s last face-off. With a lily such as this, the gilding of 3-D effects is hardly necessary. But it’s a worthwhile extra thrill nonetheless, giving the audience an additional aura of enchantment in the appearance of Harry’s point of view under his invisibility cloak, the enormous dome shielding his institution of magical learning or the aftereffects of newly destroyed horcruxes. By the way, apparently when evil items and people are killed, they explode into confetti.

The festivities have been a long time coming since J.K. Rowling first came up with the concept of The Boy Who Lived. After seven books, eight movies and hundreds of pieces of merchandise, the experience is just as fresh, perhaps even more so for American readers and viewers than British ones. With the first film released only two months after the events of Sept. 11, we Yanks needed something to believe in, and in a happy coincidence, the finale now comes on the heels of the defeat of a real-life Voldemort. Rowling may not have intended such an occurrence, but when life can imitate art in this way, it’s about as encouraging as a pat on the back from Dumbledore.

As the climax of a series that progressed from good to great, to excellent, over the years, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 defies all odds in keeping up the same level of excitement. Undoubtedly, this is a movie that will live on well after the people who were responsible for its creation, a task that comes so naturally, you won’t even need the Resurrection Stone.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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