Triumphant, yet also a bit of a disappointment. It looks magnificent, in some ways it's better than the original novel and it's wrapping up the Harry Potter films with all the blood and thunder you could want. However it's also a bit empty, character-wise, and feels as if its focus is the battle, not the characters. Even what should theoretically have been nice character moments can tend to feel slightly thrown away.
Let's talk about the good stuff, though. Bloody hell, Daniel Radcliffe's good. He's absolutely there, one hundred per cent. He's worked really, really hard on these films for a decade and turned himself into possibly one of the best actors of his generation. He'll keep improving, of course, but here he's mature, excellent and flawless, still aged only 21 or so. There's so much in his performance now. "I'm not interested in what happened between you and your brother." It's a pleasure to watch him and he carries the film like a veteran. Grint and Watson don't get much of the spotlight, but at one point I was thinking that I'd be delighted to see Grint cast as an action hero. He's a big lad and he can do "beaten up" and "intense" as well as anyone, while at the same time still having that goofball Ron charm.
Unexpectedly prominent is Neville Longbottom, of all characters. He's a hero! I was unkind things about Matthew Lewis in one of my earlier reviews, but here I liked him. The only bad actor, in fact, is that small boy in the epilogue, in more than one way bringing the Harry Potter films full circle.
At times, the action gets big enough that you could think you were watching Lord of the Rings, although the film gives its magical battles enough flavour to make them unmistakably its own. I was reminded on occasion of Indiana Jones or Star Wars and the battles admittedly include giants smashing up golems, but at the end of the day, the primary weapon of 99% of the combatants is a wand. Swords? Guns? No, don't be silly. You couldn't mistake the Battle of Hogwarts for anything in any other film. Sometimes it looks like a big fireworks display, but at other times things happen with no real-world point of comparison.
Have I mentioned, incidentally, how much I appreciate the dead staying dead? It's weird that I should feel the need to say that, but I think the series as a whole is weightier because Rowling set herself that rule and allowed no exceptions.
It's a fitting climax to the series. It's doing everything you could ask for. I said that in some ways it's better than the book because cinema is a better medium for action, huge terrifying battles and "holy flaming cow" spectacle. The film's final Harry-Voldemort battle is better than the book's too. All that's excellent, although that's not to say it's Commando or Die Hard. It's still 130 minutes long, although as it happens it's also the shortest Harry Potter film.
On the downside...
I didn't feel it was focused enough on the characters. You'd probably expect a bit more emotional connection in the finale of a decade-spanning movie adaptation of the biggest publishing blockbuster we'll see in our lifetimes. The bits are usually all there, but stuff quite often happens offscreen and/or in a throwaway fashion that's a realistic reflection of the "dead before you've turned around" speed of battle, but is nonetheless underselling the drama. See the fate of Bellatrix, for instance. This film is a stirring work of cinematic artistry, but I'd say I'm likely to be brought come closer to crying at the final episode of any random anime series.
Related to that, Tomoko didn't think Voldemort came across as a sufficiently heavyweight villain. This boggled my mind, but on reflection I can see where it might have come from. Much of Voldemort's reign of evil in the last few films has been offscreen and delivered through exposition or news bulletins, so I can see how, to a non-native speaker who won't be picking up all of the dialogue, he might come across as insufficiently visceral. He's basically Harry's psychotic stalker.
Oh, and the series's treatment of Ginny is one of the most mind-boggling things in cinema. Approximately 24 hours of Harry Potter screen time and you'd need a team of forensic scientists with microscopes to detect the presence of his girlfriend.
The very best actors still stand out, though. Yes, I mean Maggie Smith. She made me laugh and she's now the oldest actress to shoot a fight scene in a movie. ("Fight" is stretching it, but hey.) This is a good McGonagall movie and it's about time. And then there's Alan Rickman, whose performance is at last explained by the plot as he tucks the film under his arm and walks away with it. J.K. Rowling told secrets to Rickman about Snape's character that she told to no one else, back when they were shooting the first film and no one but Rowling knew where the later books would go. She didn't even tell the directors. Rickman's said that he simply had to ask them to defer to him on Snape's portrayal, whether or not they understood it. I'd go so far as to call this Rickman's film, even though he's not actually in that much of it.
Frivolous observation: [spoiler] in the epilogue looks like an albino Master. Possibly Roger Delgado. I wish they'd been able to do more monstrous goblins, although of course there they're stuck with what Chris Columbus did in the first film, but I appreciate the way that the supposedly heartwarming ghosts of Harry's loved ones in a scene near the end actually look creepy.
I'm so glad they split this book into two films. I admire their achievement, although that's not to say that even a two-film adaptation hasn't been hacked about. What happened to Wormtail, for instance? Dumbledore's shredded backstory is almost confusing. Even so, though, it's so impressive in so many ways that one feels like a churl for pointing out that there's a spark missing. It's so close to what I'd want it to be. It's monumental. It's just that this, particularly of all these films, could have been so much more powerful in the hands of, say, Spielberg or del Toro. That said, though, this was the highest-rated Harry Potter film among professional critics, it grossed 1.3 billion dollars and it's one of the most commercially successful films of all time, so what do I know? I do like the film, though. It's stirring. It does have all that emotional material I was talking about, but with a definite brutal efficiency when it's not Harry-centric. People die in battle and are mourned. Our heroes show courage in the face of death and take powerful decisions. I admire its respect for the source material and I think this is basically a strong, apocalyptic finale for a series I have a great deal of time for.
I still want to do a back-to-back marathon of this series one day, although I'd have to get up early and go to bed in the small hours. It's an underrated series, I think, if that's not a counter-intuitive thing to say about a franchise that took the world by storm. I wish someone else had directed this one, but I'm still not calling it a write-off at all.