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A Fitting End: 'Harry Potter' delivers magic in final movie

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

(PG-13)

3 out of 4 stars

If for no other reason, Warner Brothers and the producers of the “Harry Potter” series (under the strict supervision of creator J.K. Rowling of course) deserve credit for achieving a single, yet seemingly impossible task. In the space of 10 years, they made eight films that represent the most successful movie franchise of all-time and while doing so didn’t churn out a single stinker. Conversely, they never delivered us a hands-down classic, either.

For those of us who never read a single page of a “Harry Potter” book, the movies spawned from them have an inescapable air of interchangeable sameness, particularly from the third installment on. The only way non-believers can tell them apart is by the age of the three principal characters. If they’re pre-teens, it’s an older version. If they’re near college age, it’s a recent edition. If Harry’s voice occasionally cracks and he’s not yet old enough to shave, it’s somewhere in the middle.

As series sendoffs, go “DHP2” sees to every last detail and dangling plot thread with grace, style and a level of class rarely seen in mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters. Even with many deaths along the way, it is decidedly life-affirming. It’s emotionally grand without being sappy, grandiose, synthetic or manipulative. There’s no artificial tugging of heart-strings here.

As with every other previous installment, “DHP2” starts off with a bang but soon falls prey to plodding mid-section filler where not a lot happens. While fans of the books will disagree, “Deathly Hallows” didn’t need to be split in two and if it had been made as one three-hour film instead of two that run a total of about 41⁄2 hours it might have achieved true greatness.

No matter how it might want to spin it, Warner Bros. made two films out of one book simply because it could. It’s hard to let go off a franchise this golden (something Warner also had to do not long ago with “The Lord of the Rings”), and it wanted to milk “Potter” for every possible drop. The money-grubbing doesn’t end there.

“DHP2” also marks the first “Potter” movie presented in 3-D. The operative word here is “presented,” as it was not shot in 3-D. This is the visual equivalent of taking a 1960s Rock song recorded in mono and “rechanneling” it into faux-stereo. There’s not a single image in “DHP2” that benefits from 3-D, something made even more glaring thanks to the black-blue-gray color palette that has permeated the last half of the franchise. As the tone of the narrative has grown darker, so have the visuals, and 3-D only makes it pronounced in a mostly negative way.

There’s an image of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) seen late in the movie that calls to mind an eerily similar one of John Lennon in “How I Won the War,” an obscure anti-war black comedy from 1967. Both men wear beige jackets, sport almost identical haircuts, wear the same granny glasses and are drenched in residual post-battle dirt, blood and sweat.

Their characters emerged victorious after conflicts neither wanted to participate in, and each comes to the harrowing realization of the staggering cost at which it was achieved. Both lost many friends (and, in Harry’s case, loved ones) along the way which ultimately diminishes their “winning” status.

Probably without any overt intent, Rowling’s magnum opus is an eight-part anti-war treatise couched within the friendly confines of a young-adult series of fantasy books that are as equally successful and lucrative as the films. While far from the world’s most talented writer, Rowling did something with her books something that hasn’t been achieved since L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” series from the early 20th century. She prodded a worldwide generation of children to read and — more importantly — like doing it. Rowling fully deserves every cent she’s earned from “Potter” and then some.

The “Potter” movies also stick to a quasi-version of the Hippocratic Oath. They took a beloved entity, transformed it into another medium, made a bunch of money and did so without doing harm. Everyone involved can take their exit with their heads held high. (Warner Bros.)