A review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2," the artful final installment in the Harry Potter movie franchise.

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MOVIE REVIEW 3.5 stars

And so it ends. For readers and moviegoers, the “Harry Potter” saga has been a remarkable journey; kids have grown up on screen and in theater seats, thinking of J.K. Rowling’s characters as beloved friends. So the question facing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” isn’t how it will all conclude — we all know, or can guess, the result of our hero’s final confrontation with Voldemort — but whether the last movie can do justice to the end of a beloved world. Does it?

Yes, absolutely.

Director David Yates, working from a tight, elegant screenplay by Steve Kloves (heroically boiling down the book’s manic final third), makes “HP and the DH — P2” exactly what it needs to be: artfully filmed, tautly paced, just sentimental enough. There’s wit, in Helena Bonham Carter’s tottery impersonation of Hermione transformed into villainess Bellatrix Lestrange. There’s adventure, in a madcap goblin rollercoaster ride into a bank vault, from which our heroes can only escape by jumping onto the back of a fire-breathing dragon. (“It’s mad,” says Emma Watson’s wise, newly reckless Hermione of her idea for escape — but it works.) There’s pathos, in a silent shot of Alan Rickman’s tragic Severus Snape as he tearfully, finally embraces the one he loves. And there’s dark beauty, as a dispatched demon turns before our eyes into tatters of grayed paper, fluttering weightlessly away in the cold night air.

Though some questioned the filmmakers’ decision to release this final film in 3D, the end result is surprisingly subtle; you won’t miss much of director of photography Eduardo Serra’s beautiful compositions if you watch in 2D, but the added dimension brings a soft, floating texture. The “Harry Potter” series, particularly from the third film on, has always been visually striking, and this final edition has more on which to feast: the sandy, windswept calm of the Shell Cottage; the dim grandeur of the Gringotts vault, laden with silver and gold; the sight of a protective shield forming over Hogwarts, sent by magic wands and spreading like an arch made of watery milk — and, moments later, the light from hundreds of opposing wands, like a forest of malevolent fireworks.

But the characters are what drew us to this story, and the actors are what kept this franchise in top form. Of the films’ sterling grown-up cast, I’ll most miss Rickman’s shadowy Snape, who here gets one last chance to show that he can enunciate words slower and more threateningly than anyone else (listen to how many syllables he pulls out of the word “equally”), and Maggie Smith’s disapproving yet devoted McGonagall, who gloriously shows us that she can work a wand like nobody’s business. Others make brief farewell appearances, reminding us of what they brought to the journey: Michael Gambon’s wise Dumbledore; Bonham Carter’s snarling Bellatrix; John Hurt’s wistful wandmaker Ollivander; Gary Oldman’s loyal Sirius.

And oh, the kids — young adults now, but still carrying traces of the children they were when we first met. Bonnie Wright, alas, remains uncomfortable on screen (and her role, as Harry’s love interest Ginny, remains underwritten), but the rest are splendid. Matthew Lewis’ Neville gets some nicely heroic screen time, and Evanna Lynch continues to be all-that-and-a-radish-earring as the ever-wafting Luna Lovegood. And how nice that the film’s penultimate moment is a quiet one, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) stand alone together outside Hogwarts, finally exhaling; you wish they could take a well-deserved bow.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” isn’t quite a masterpiece; it’ll be mystifying to anyone unfamiliar with the franchise, and small points are quibble-worthy throughout. (Most troubling, to me: some misplaced wit — particularly a line that was funny, but that surely the august McGonagall would never have said in such a moment — and some bumpy editing that marred the impact of Molly Weasley’s great final moment with Bellatrix.) But these points are minor. What matters is the feel of this movie, and it was exactly right. The “Harry Potter” saga is a tale of magic and wonder, friendship and loyalty, darkness and light, and it ends with satisfied smiles — on screen and off.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com