Two-thirds of the way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, there’s a brief flashback to the very first movie. If it hadn’t already, it may be at that point when the whole thing really hits you; this really is the end.

For fans of the franchise, there has probably never been a more bittersweet moment. At least when the final book was released in 2007, there were still two (or, as it turned out, three) movies on the horizon. But once you walk out of the theaters this weekend, that’s it. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

Fortunately, the ‘sweet’ part of the bittersweet is that they saved the best for last.

Even Potter purists will find little, if anything, to complain about. The acting is first-rate, the scenery is spectacular, and the visual effects are jaw-dropping. And the story is just as captivating as the book, if not more so (I know, I know… sacrilege!).

Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) thrusting the Elder Wand to the sky. From there we get a quick, ominous look at Snape (Alan Rickman) lording over Hogwarts, and then it’s back to Shell Cottage, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) are getting Griphook to sneak them into Bellatrix’s vault at Gringotts, so the trio can continue the search for the Horcruxes.

(p.s. If any word in that last paragraph didn’t make sense, don’t see this movie. Instead, head to your library and visit the ‘Rowling’ section in Fiction. Commence reading.)

Along the way to the big ol’ Battle of Hogwarts, there’s plenty to gawk at. The visit to Gringotts and subsequent escape on the Ukrainian Ironbelly is masterful work, jammed with action and suspense. The initial defense of Hogwarts, under the direction of Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), is similarly mind-blowing, with the tension broken delightfully by one of the funniest lines in the movie.

And the final battle itself, which dominates the last hour, will only make you want the Harry Potter experience to continue for… oh, just about ever. It’s as brilliant and mind-blowing a sixty minutes as you will see this year, and it’s augmented by arguably the best sequence of any of the films—Harry’s beautifully-crafted journey through the Pensieve into Snape’s memories.

But the real genius of Part 2 is how equal attention is given to smaller, quieter moments like the stolen kiss between Ron and Hermione and the tearful reunion between Harry and his mom in the Forbidden Forest. Plus there’s Snape’s perfectly chilling, eerily sinister ultimatum to the Hogwarts students; if the hairs on the back of your neck don’t stand straight up, you may need to check your pulse.

As much as The Sorcerer’s Stone was a fun, almost lighthearted romp about a little boy wizard, Deathly Hallows Part 2 shows us all exactly how far everyone has come in ten years. It’s very mature, very violent, and it’s easily the best film (along with Part 1) of the entire series. Director David Yates is, without hyperbole, a genius. The pacing is perfect, and the camera work is simply stunning (kudos also to cinematographer Eduardo Serra).

To a person, the performances are all among the actors’ bests of their respective careers. Even well-seasoned veterans Fiennes, Rickman, and Smith left nothing on the table. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have honed their craft exquisitely over the past few years, and even smaller players like Matthew Lewis (Neville) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix) also have their chance to shine brightly.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who arguably had the toughest task of all, makes it through with flying colors. No, this isn’t a word-for-word depiction of the book, but most of the good bits are left in, and the movie doesn’t suffer one bit from the abridgement.

Harry Potter fans, rejoice—there is no better way for your beloved hero to say goodbye. And then go ahead and shed a tear or two, for your beloved hero has said goodbye.

5/5 stars