Like it or loathe it, as we come to the end of the Harry Potter road, it's still nigh on impossible to ignore JK Rowling's creation. Her books did for children's reading what the Beatles did for music. The final book in the series of seven, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' was considered too much for just one film adaptation to handle and has been split into two. Not that you'd know it by the lengthy 146-minute running time. A darker, deeper journey for Harry (Radcliffe) and his maturing fans alike, the results might even convert a few Potter knockers.
Director David Yates, who also delivered 'The Order of the Phoenix' and 'The Half-Blood Prince', jumps in at the deep end for Part One, without a recap to remind us of where we left off in the latter. We last saw Harry and his pals reeling after Snape's (Rickman) betrayal lead to Dumbledore's (Gambon) death.
Long gone is the heady innocence of the familiar, fun Hogwarts school days and lingering teenage crushes and kisses. All grown up, Harry is out in the big bad world and aside from a little peck with Ginny, he and the others have to abandon loved ones, thereby protecting them as their world is filled with unyielding enemies and life-threatening challenges. Surrounded by an eclectic crew of friends old and new, Harry sets off to fulfil his destiny, posthumously aided by the fatherly Dumbledore who bequeaths gifts in his will to aid the journey ahead.
Murder, mayhem and a marriage; Rowling and Potter screenwriting regular Steve Kloves have provided an action-packed first half, filled with entertaining use of magic, identity theft and a thrilling car-chase. The Weasley wedding (featuring a stunning Alexander McQueen inspired dress - but of course the now very fashion savvy Watson could have told us that) is a brief and welcome respite from the evil, but it's not long before the Death Eaters crash the party.
Harry and his trusty team, Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), spend the rest of the film cold, miserable and terrified as they try to find and destroy the Horcruxes, the key to the immortality of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Voldemort, oops, is centre stage in this instalment as he goes to the ends of the earth and back to find Harry, aided by his menacing misfits. Both he and Harry uncover the secret of the Deathly Hallows - three of the most powerful objects in the wizardry world - and a race against time ensues as each battles to find them first. The dark lord takes over the Ministry of Magic and begins a reign of terror, beginning with the elimination of mudbloods... Remind you of anybody?
As with most of the recent Harry Potter films, there is the odd nightmare-inducing scene that, despite the 12A cert, could prove a little uncomfortable for younger fans - Nagini's human snake snack being one. With them, however, comes the gain at the other end as the film's action and intense scenes may attract a new adult following ahead of next summer's grand finale.
'Deathly Hallows' is not without its faults - the bum-numbing running time being the most obvious. The decision to stay so loyal to the book leads to other disadvantages too, in that there are a number of characters who bring little or nothing to the plot. Plus there are a number of cheesy, drawn-out scenes that could easily have been edited. The chemistry between the three leads has developed from teenage awkwardness into close friendships, but the supposed blossoming romance between Hermione and Ron is unconvincing, unlike in the book. Not only that, but somewhere in between disembarking the Hogwarts Express and embracing the outside world, they've lost their mojo, the sense of fun that their magic brings and the warmth that unites them. The film looks and sounds great, thanks to Eduardo Serra and Alexandre Desplat respectively, but it's cold once you take a good look inside.
The good news on the Irish front is that Lynch has a bigger role to play here and even gets a dad in the form of Ifans, plus Gleeson returns as Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody and is joined by his son Domhnall. The supporting cast is brilliant as always, not least for all the titillating fun in spotting the A-lister.
The biggest blockbuster franchise may be steaming ahead to its final destination but until then there'll be numerous stops for merchandising along the way. Get ready to be stupefied.
‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ is scheduled for release on 15 July 2011.