There are moments in this tight-paced and fan-rewarding finale that throw us out of fantasy mode and into the greater world of Things We Wish Our Kids Knew. They’re corny life lessons, but also resonant reflections on how good can actually triumph over selfishness and cruelty; that “darkest hour before the dawn” stuff. David Yates wrings concentrated thrills (most scenes work on two plot levels at once) from a script that shows us Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) moving from post-Dobby-death ruthlessness into unexpected generosities. Two acts define him in this movie, and without spoiling much, it’s Draco (Tom Felton) and Snape (Alan Rickman) who elicit Harry’s finest moments. It’s a credit to the film’s intelligence that Harry’s rewards for these acts are betrayal and, well, death. (Okay, I said it, but you have to just wait and see what that means for yourself.) If the issue has always been what Harry and You-Know-Who have in common, then Deathly Hallows makes the difference clear.
Harry’s quintessential scene occurs as he, Hermoine (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) “apparate” themselves near a roaring stream, just before assailing the evil forces gathered at Hogwarts. Hermione expresses doubts. “When have any of our plans ever worked?” asks Harry, ripping off a wet shirt (to the audience’s delight). “We just show up and deal with it when we get there.” Harry has finally developed character after six misgiving-haunted adventures. It may not be Hamlet meditating on Fortinbras, but his newfound resolve paves the way through battles and sure predictions of doom—with a little help from Dumbledore, who, though dead, makes a sweet cameo.
Great conclusions require the summing up of earlier issues and themes, and wisely this film revisits the best in the series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, to find its twists and revelations concerning that unexplained patronus spell that rescues Harry from the Dementors. It’s nice to look back in wonder but learn something, too. Remember, millions of kids grew up in a wish-fulfillment relationship with Harry, his troubled family, his magic friends’ society, and his anxious search in a strict but fun school for a life’s work, and can follow along as he abandons elaborate plans, shows up, and just improvises a life.