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Thrilling Potter finale doesn't disappoint

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two. Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two. Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Rating: 8 (out of 10)

THERE have been assorted cinematic Batmen and SpiderGuys over the years, but there has only ever been one Harry Potter.

A generation has grown up watching the magic of Harry, Hermione and Ron unspool, in print and onscreen, over the past decade, and the sniffly laments for the end of the Hogwarts era have already started.

Emma Watson, who was 10 years old when she first played Hermione Granger, was in tears as she thanked her "brothers" Rupert Grint and Dan Radcliffe at the London premiere of the film. At the screening I attended, people clutched hankies and hugged each other, the kind of happysad boo-hooing one indulges in after graduation.

It is a graduation of sorts for the child actors, left with a huge fortune and a load of free time. Radcliffe has tried the stage (in Equus and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying) and in an indie film (The December Boys); ditto Grint, who starred in Driving Lessons and has a few films in the can; and Watson recently her left studies at Brown University.

The Harry Potter films have made over $6 billion (and counting), officially making the Warner Bros. films the highest-grossing franchise of all time. But apart from its monetary value, the films have the added distinction of satisfying millions of discriminating fans of J.K. Rowling's septology. Books and films are very different creatures, but overall there was little grumbling about how much of Rowling's prose had been omitted, or what had been altered at the hands of the studio.

If part one of Harry Potter's swansong was meditative in tone, with pastoral vistas and shots of our heroes trudging over mountaintops, part two is its feisty twin, a hurlyburly race to the death of Voldemort, Harry, or both.. (If you haven't read the books, I'm not going to be the one to give it away.)

There is an occasional look back, but for the most part director David Yates expects that viewers are up to speed with the story. And so the film opens with Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) ensconced as headmaster of a gloomy Hogwarts, where marching and beatings are de rigeur. However it isn't long before a dark army forms above Hogwarts and the school is under siege from wizards and witches, giants and assorted Death Eaters

With Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in possession of the

Elder Wand, it's up to Harry, Hermione and Ron to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes, the key to Voldemort's evil power. Things have changed since the innocent early days of Quidditch: now it's a match to the death between Harry and Voldemort.

It's one bloody battle after another, but there are a few moments of humour, as when Ron sums up the trio's strategizing ability: "we plan, we get there, and all hell breaks loose." Impressively, with all the fighting going on, the film still manages to pack an emotional wallop, whether it's answering the Ron and Hermione will-they-won't-they question, revealing the source of Snape's pain, or engaging Harry in a touching reunion with his parents.

Kids who have grown up watching the Potter films have been spoiled with visual effects, and Deathly Hallows Part 2 is no exception: a gargantuan albino dragon flies over London; a treasure trove at the wizard bank Gringotts multiplies and threatens to drown our threesome; the protective spell over Hogwarts, and its violent destruction. All examples of the effects team's wizardry.

The suspected link between Harry and his nemesis is revealed, then there's the mano a mano battle between the two: "The boy who lived, come to die," Voldemort rasps. It comes down to a wizarding sort of High Noon, with each wand-slinger reaching for his weapon.

There will be grumbling about the film's somewhat hasty ending, and at 130 minutes - trim for a Potter film - Part 2 could have benefited from a few more minutes (elucidating the relationship between Albus and his brother, played by Ciaran Hinds, for example). There is time, thankfully, to bring in professors and students from past films for a final farewell.

Overall the film is a satisfying conclusion to years of magic, and the story will likely live on in DVD marathons, and in rereadings of the seven books, in years to come. After all, "Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic," says the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), by way of author J.K. Rowling. Indeed.