With the appearance of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," it has finally sunk in for a lot of people that Harry won't be having any new adventures, although at the film's recent London première, J.K. Rowling sent a crowd of enthusiasts into a froth by saying "never say never."
The collective emotion arising from the last installment of the "Harry Potter" franchise, after eight films and a record-setting $2 billion at the box office (so far), is a sense of loss. Even for those of us who have not found the films transcendent, there is some regret. The films' rampaging innocence and invention seem worlds apart in quality from most of what passes these days as family entertainment.
The movies, closely following Rowling's books, and all but one expertly scripted by Steve Kloves, have grown inexorably darker since the series began in 2001 with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
Harry's odyssey, which ends in "Part 2" with the inevitable showdown between Daniel Radcliffe's Harry and Ralph Fiennes's nose-challenged Lord Voldemort, was always pitched as a battle royal between the forces of light and dark. For many of their young enthusiasts, the books and movies probably represented, for the first time on the page or on screen, a true reckoning with the forces of death and sacrifice (although death, in the "Potter" universe, is often a transitory state). This is a big reason why the films (which are not so much adaptations of the novels as they are emanations of them) have become very personal affairs for their fans.
This intense attachment, of course, is not, in itself, a signifier of quality. The "Lord of the Rings" franchise inspired a similar cultishness, but that was OK. Those films were mostly very good. The "Star Wars" franchise, however, long ago lost its luster, if not its fanatical following, after an interminable run of awful sequels and prequels. As examples of fantasy filmmaking, as opposed to relics of worship, the "Harry Potter" movies do not, except in snatches, have the lyrical wonderfulness and visionary power that I associate with the finest examples of childhood imaginings on film – the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away"), for example, or "The Black Stallion" or "The Red Balloon" or Alfonso Cuarón's "A Little Princess." With the exception of the third installment, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," directed by Cuarón, the films have ranged from workmanlike (the first two, both directed by Chris Columbus) to highly accomplished, especially the two "Deathly Hallows" films, directed by David Yates.
The special effects have almost always been powerfully elegant, none more so than in "Deathly Hallows 2," where a trip to a wizard bank turns into a supernal roller coaster ride inside a cavernous vault where heaps of jewels and gold multiply voluminously, insanely. We are presented with the nightmarish image of Hogwarts as a black and brutal expanse presided over by hovering Death Eaters and a cruelly imperious Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, in a brief performance of genuine depth).
"Deathly Hallows 2" also brings back, if only fitfully, many of the wonderful British character actors who have flitted in and out of the series, including Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, Jim Broadbent as potions professor Horace Slughorn, and Maggie Smith, whose Professor Minerva McGonagall crisply defends Hogwarts against Voldemort's looming hordes.
It has always been one of the hallmarks of this series that even when the plotting, especially for those unversed in the books, resembled a brambly thicket, and the cinematic magicmaking was more overloaded than inspired, the acting served up by this ongoing parade of hall of fame hams carried the day.
The acting by the three mainstays – Radcliffe, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione – was never up to that level, but it was entirely adequate to the roles' demands. "Deathly Hallows 2" is, in any case, primarily Harry's story, and so Grint and Watson are relatively sidelined. Ron and Hermione do, however, get to kiss for the first time – an indication of just how dire things have become for them.
It is not often that we can chart a series over 10 years featuring the same child stars as they grow into adults. This phenomenon gives "Deathly Hallows 2" a particular poignancy, since audiences will likely look at these young actors and see themselves growing old as well.
But I don't bemoan the end of the series. It has run its course.
The filmmakers may have felt this, too. The climactic dramatic resolution is not overdone, like the multiple endings in the final installment of "Lord of the Rings," and the brief coda that takes the story into the future appears almost as an afterthought. This understatement, especially given what has come before, is pleasing, and it's also a token of respect for the series' devoted, longtime audience. The filmmakers are saying, "We've all grown up with this together and we know how much this story means to us. No need to make a big show of it now."
• Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.