After seven films, 11 years, four directors and a cumulative running time that lasts longer than a Jewish wedding, the story of the world’s most famous magic-channelling do-gooder finally comes to a close in a fireball of cheese and spectacle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two.

Grab a tissue and wipe away your tears, Potter-philes, ‘cuz there’ll be no more wand wavering, no more gibberish chanting, no more daffy Rowling sub-plots, no more borderline legal adolescent romances, no more Maggie Smith in a black robe and a witch’s hat.

This is Hazza’s last hurrah. Or, to put it more accurately, Hazza’s last hurrah: part two, which means there’s no chance Hollywood can squeeze out another instalment. There are no more books to split in half. Franchise devotees unwilling to accept that the curtain is drawn but exhausted by the prospect of re-watching the back catalogue for the zillionth time may find a Potter afterlife by embracing remnants of the series that will find new homes elsewhere.

Helena Bonham Carter, for example, will again breathe tortured life into a fuzzy-haired crazy woman who looks like she feeds too many stray cats. Michael Gambon will continue to stroke that fabulously fulsome silver beard as if it were a soft purring cat. And Alan Rickman will gleefully lick the bile from his gums at the prospect of again wearing dark clothes and striking fear in the hearts of small children.

The Deathly Hallows: Part One was, unsurprisingly, awfully unfinished business, a two and a half hour wait for a non-existent finale. Part Two promised a spectacular sound-n-fury showdown between the bookish young’un and his flat-faced nobody-dareth-speaketh-his-name arch enemy Voldemort, played with dastardly aplomb by Ralph Fiennes, and spectacular it is.

The plot is not so much a story but a string of set pieces: the school Hogwarts, with all its nooks and crannies and weird rooms, objects and life forces; an enchanted woods; a few moments at a train station where kids are encouraged to run straight into stone pillars.

Potter returns to Hogwarts for a how-de-do with the faculty and Voldemort, chasing him with the obsessive lunatic energy of a crack addict searching for a spoon in a drawer full of forks and knives offers the school an ultimatum. They cough up Potter or deal with an apocalyptic assault from the forces of CGI-spangled darkness. They choose the latter and much of the movie consists of the principal setting getting trashed and trampled like hotel rooms in The Hangover movies.

In the process, mysteries are resolved, ghosts of the past literally revisited, back stories rewound and completed, allegiances formed and broken, and Star Wars inspired magic wand zapping scenes lovingly rendered. The narrative check was written and waved in front of hungry-eyed audiences in the previous instalment; here it is banked, cashed and spread across the scenery.

The Potter flicks, particularly those past the glossy Chris Columbus-directed opening two features, always had a undercurrent of moonlit midnight aesthetic: dark, fantastic, stylishly macabre. In the finale, director David Yates (this is his fourth Potter flick) cranks the gothic imagery up a couple of notches, to a place of dark beauty roughly in line with Alfonso Cuaron’s The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).

When Yates gets it right, Deathly Hallows: Part Two roars with majestic otherworldly oomph. There are ghoulish faces formed in streams of fire and water, gargoyles that leap to life and monsters that trawl over rocky terrain and through frosty midnight forests. There is one unsettling python who will sliver straight into the nightmares of children and a villain’s robe made from material that can coil and string up its victims.

When it looks good, it looks really good, even through distracting Potter-shaped 3D glasses that predictably add little to nothing to the experience. This is style trumping substance, no doubt ’bout it, but amid the noise and chaos the back stories and subplots prove surprisingly resilient to the rivers of good looking aesthetic gunk that stream through them.

What a shame, then, that Harry’s very last scene — the moment to be emblazoned in the collective Potter-phile memory alongside Dumbledore’s death and glimpses of Daniel Radcliffe riding a horse naked — is without exaggeration the most embarrassing conclusion to a blockbuster franchise in film history. It will be the butt of many jokes for years to come.

It’s not the cheese-injected zero-nuance dramatic thrust that really irks — though that doesn’t help — but, oddly, a decision in the make-up department that provides a ghastly reminder of getting the basics — i.e. costumes and appearances — right. Without giving the game away, the characters in the final scene look ridiculous, the equivalent of putting Michael Gambon in a diaper and a pram and trying to pass him off as a baby. Gambon is a fine actor, but playing an infant is out of his range.

In a series so keen to seduce audiences with notions of magic and wonder, here is one scene that pricks the balloon with brutal swiftness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two’s Australian theatrical release date: July 14, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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