As with the character, the Harry Potter films matured through the series.
When we first met the boy wizard in Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), the tone was a sense of childhood wonderment and a faithful rendering of author J.K. Rowling's popular novel.
As other directors took over, the Potter franchise grew darker and took on a life separate from the books. That can be attributed to seeing the cast of characters literally grow up in front of our eyes.
So by the time we get to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 — the final installment of the series, being released Friday on DVD — Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) have become burden-weary adults, with the fate of their magic world resting on their shoulders. Childhood and childish things are behind them in this film, and, whether it was luck or a keen eye, it's hard to imagine three better young actors for the roles.
Part 2 — the eighth in the series of movies based on the seven books — is a sort of long goodbye. Director David Yates, who took over in the fifth film (Order of the Phoenix), manages to keep up the excitement even as the characters are in essence taking their final bows.
The Potter films have always been filled with wonderful actors: Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane — with Ralph Fiennes as the archvillain Lord Voldemort and Alan Rickman as the mysterious Professor Severus Snape adding particular power to their roles.
There is plenty of monumental action in Part 2. This is good versus evil, after all, and anything less than all-out war would seem anticlimactic. Yet the filmmakers have always grounded the story.
There is a touch of sadness in seeing the characters go, of course, and on another level, it's sad to see such a well-done franchise end. That it didn't somehow self-destruct in eight movies might be Hollywood's biggest bit of magic in years.
Part 2 retails for $28.98 or $35.99 Blu-ray.