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Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 * * *

It's hard to see the decision to split the final Harry Potter novel into two films as anything other than a cynical exercise in money-making.

It worked: Deathly Hallows Part 1 raked almost a billion dollars, and this one is sure to do even better. But the division of the novel made Deathly Hallows Part 1 bleaker, darker, more turgid and less eventful than a kid's fantasy film has any right to be.

In stretching out JK Rowling's final Potter novel, screenwriter Steve Koves had reduced its hectic plot to a deathly crawl, and most of Hallows Part 1 was a kind of extended advertisement for the fireworks to come in Part 2. Here it is, and in fairness this last film does not disappoint on the action front. In fact it proceeds at breakneck pace from the get-go, as Harry, Ron and Hermione race to find the horcruxes that will help them defeat Voldemort.

Deathly Hallows Part 2 begins where its predecessor left off, as Ralph Fiennes' noseless villain Voldemort (pictured right) emerges in triumph from Professor Dumbledore's tomb bearing the Elder Wand, a device which will make him all-powerful.

Bad news for Harry and co, for whom a difficult task has now become all but impossible. But in spite of the fact that the odds are stacked against him, Harry persists in tracking down the horcruxes, sundered pieces of Voldemort's soul that when destroyed will weaken him.

In the film's most visually arresting scenes, Harry and his allies blag their way into the Gringotts bank and sneak to the vaults where they do battle with an impressively rendered CGI albino dragon and search Bellatrix Lestrange's treasure trove for a horcrux.

They find it, but then discover that another horcrux has been concealed within the grounds of Hogwarts itself. But as they hurry back, the storm clouds are gathering: emboldened by the acquisition of the Elder Wand, Voldemort has assembled his dark forces for a final assault on his alma mater.

Whatever you might say about the Potter films, they're scrupulously faithful to the spirit of the stories, as you'd expect with Rowling so closely involved. That's part of the secret of their success, as are budgets big enough to accommodate the necessarily opulent special effects. But, for me, the real key has been consistently brilliant casting.

Fiennes was the perfect choice to play the elegantly vile Voldemort: up till now he's appeared in snatches, but in Deathly Hallows Part 2 he takes centre stage and has a high old time terrorising Hogwarts.

Fiennes twists his lanky frame into shapes as contorted as Voldemort's soul, and even punctures the film's climax with a moment of bleak humour.

He's quite brilliant, but so is Helena Bonham Carter, who has brought a touch of style to the Potter franchise since appearing as Bellatrix Lestrange midway through the cycle.

My favourite recurring cast member, though, has been Alan Rickman. His Severus Snape has a sneering word for everyone, and his turbulent relationship with Harry Potter has been central to the overall storyline. Rickman's mellifluous voice at times almost seems like a weapon, and in one terrific scene in this film he makes a simple school announcement positively drip with sarcasm.

Maggie Smith comes into her own in this final instalment too, as Minerva McGonagall rallies the Hogwarts faithful, living and dead, to face the ultimate challenge. That last battle between the forces of good and evil does not disappoint, in fact I have it on good authority that director David Yates and his team do a better job of recounting the crucial conflict than Ms Rowling did in her novel.

As to the three principals, they've grown up with the Potter saga and have done so reasonably gracefully. Daniel Radcliffe is quite a stocky little fellow at this stage, and makes a pretty convincing action hero. But it will be hard for him and his many fans to cope with life without Harry.

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