Did Harry marry the wrong girl and Voldemort make a unbelievable mistake? James Hibberd casts a snarkalous spell on the finest film in the series

By James Hibberd
Updated July 18, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

After nearly 20 hours of people emphatically waving sticks at each other, the Harry Potter movie saga is complete. The final chapter is amazing. It’s emotionally powerful and the best Potter film — despite Harry marrying the wrong girl, throwing away an unbeatable wand, and Voldemort making the dumbest move in cinema villain history. But we’ll get to that. So get out your wands and let’s cast the EW recap spell: Snarkalous!

We start with a sinister looking Warner Bros. logo testing our 3-D glasses, followed by an epic shot of Snape peering down at the Riefenstahl-style columns of students marching grimly into Hogwarts. This tells us pretty much all we need to know about how Lord Voldemort impacted the coolest of the wizard schools. (Can you imagine how uptight Durmstrang is now?)

Beach safe house: Meanwhile, Harry Potter is hanging out at a desolate seaside shack. Sure, it’s nice he buried poor Dobby, but how long could it have taken? It’s like burying your backpack. Inside, Harry has a chat with Griphook, the goblin rescued from the Malfoy Manor dungeon at the end of the previous film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1: Year of the Tent. One of the first things we notice is how steely and confident Harry has become. The young wizards want Griphook to help them break into his former employer Gringotts to search Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault for one of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes (and it’s a real achievement by J.K. Rowling that you actually understand all that). Wizard bank heist? Yes, please!

Griphook agrees to help in exchange for Harry’s Sword of Gryffindor — except they need the sword to destroy the horcruxes. Ah well, they decide to wing it. Using Polyjuice potion, they disguise Hermione as Bellatrix and Ron as another Death Eater. (Asks the cynic: ”Where did they get the black clothes?” Quiet, muggle!). Using only her body language, Helena Bonham Carter is so perfect playing Emma Watson-as-Hermione that for a moment I thought it was Watson.

Gringotts: Goblins apparently have short-men complexes, building their desks six feet high so they can still peer down at you. Harry and Griphook hide under the invisibility cloak, while Ron and Hermione try to bluff their way inside. The teller demands Bellatrix’s wand as proof and she panics. (But wait, Ollivander said they have Bellatrix’s wand, right?) Instead, Harry discretely stuns the teller with an Oxycontin spell. Problem solved.

They pile into the mine car and speed off into the vaults. I should point out here, banking wise, having to risk a rocketing death cab every time you want to make a withdrawal from your account seems really inconvenient. Wizards have cool perks like flying broomsticks, but with ATMs on every corner, muggles win in terms of managing their personal finances. Suddenly there’s a problem when —

NEXT: Why dragons make unreliable bank guards; Old man Neville

— The mine car passes under The Thief’s Downfall — a waterfall that washes away their disguises and they’re unceremoniously dumped out.

With the bank alarm triggered, our heroes rush to Bellatrix’s vault. Harry spots the horcrux — the Hufflepuff House’s cup perched at the top of a large pile of treasure. Of course, there’s a catch: A Gemino spell multiples any object they touch. This sort of magic makes me wonder why any wizard family is poor, but there’s a more pressing problem as the room begins to fill up. Harry barely captures the horcrux and Griphook takes this opportunity to screw them over — grabbing the Sword and leaving them.

A goblin security brigade surrounds the vault and Hermione has a so-crazy-it-just-might-work idea: Set the massive albino dragon outside the vault free and ride it out. (I take back what I said about wizard vs. muggle banks — I’d feel a lot better about our financial system if Wells Fargo guarded my checking account with a dragon). This is exciting stuff. My favorite part is the dragon torches a bunch of the bankers and we’re apparently not supposed to feel bad about it.

Our heroes jump off at the nearest cold-looking lake. They don’t give any thought to setting a murderous dragon loose in the world, but when it swoops down on an elementary school for a snack somebody’s gonna be in big trouble.

Suddenly, Harry has one of his mind-meld visions with He Who Shall Not Smell Much. He learns another horcrux is at Hogwarts and it’s somehow related to house founder Rowena Ravenclaw. Great line when Hermione says they need to make a plan and Harry snaps: ”When have our plans ever actually worked out? We plan, we get there, and all hell breaks loose.”

Hogsmeade: Am I the only person who’s always wanted to get a butterbeer in this quaint village? Seems like an ideal spot to stay at a bed and breakfast. You can escape from work and disconnect since there’s probably no cell phone coverage. I’m definitely sold if there’s butterbeer pale ale.

Harry and Co. arrive and set off yet another alarm. They’re rescued by the cynical Aberforth, the owner of the Hog’s Head pub. Some quick exposition: We learn Aberforth is Dumbledore’s brother and that he’s been helping them from afar while watching Harry in a two-way looking glass. Harry is so intent on getting into Hogwarts that he doesn’t seem creeped out by the fact that some craggy guy living in the back of a bar has been secretly watching him for months. Aberforth also guards the last secret passage into Hogwarts.

Hogwarts: Hey, it’s Neville Longbottom. He looks like he jumped from 14 years old to 44 in a way only Brits can master. Neville leads Harry and friends to the magical Room of Requirement, which changes its environment to match the user’s needs. Harry finds all his old Dumbledore’s Army buddies have been hiding here, sleeping in hammocks because, I guess, nobody required the Room to provide beds (I would at least ask the Room for a pizza buffet and a hot tub). They’re all thrilled Harry’s back but now he must explain he’s looking for an object, but doesn’t know what it is or where it might be. Then Ginny comes in…

NEXT: The trouble with Ginny; Ravenclaw’s lost what?

Ginny rushes in. Harry doesn’t move. For once, she looks excited and seems like a mannequin hit with a Botox spell. Still, it’s tough to buy Harry’s attraction: Ginny likes him and she’s, uh, quiet and nice and…. Yeah, after seven books and eight movies, that’s all I got. Ginny comes off like a dour Harry Potter fan more than a worthy contender for his romantic interest, let alone his ideal life partner. And Harry — as we’ll see three times later in this film — never seems very excited by her. Our hero deserves someone lively, bright and, you know, fun. Here’s some advice Harry: Settling too soon results in unhappy marriages; you should play the field after you defeat the Dark Lord (and I don’t mean the Quidditch one).

Great Hall: Snape lines up the students and demands anybody with knowledge of Harry Potter’s whereabouts step forward. The veteran English actors overact like mad in the Potter films and Snape’s speech verges on self-parody. In a cool moment added from the book, Harry steps out and reveals himself.

”How dare you stand where he stood?” Harry yells. ”Tell them how it happened that night. How you looked him in the eye, a man who trusted you, and killed him.” Love the conflicted expression on Snape’s face as he listens to Harry’s outrage.

Snape vanishes in wild batty style, but our celebration is brief. Voldemort gets on his psychic PA system and announces the staff and students must give up Harry. (If only Voldemort had a cackling Bellatrix write ”Surrender Harry” above the school in black smoke while riding a broomstick). Prof. McGonagall leads the staff to secure the castle, building a massive force field to guard the grounds.

Outside: Voldemort arrives with his army. Does the Dark Lord require all of them to dress in black, or is that their fashion preference since they’re evil? They fire off spells trying to crack the force field. The clock is ticking…

Hogwarts: Luna tells Harry the object he’s searching for is Ravenclaw’s lost ”di-a-dem,” which nobody has seen in years. With the accents, it almost sounds like they need to find Ravenclaw’s lost diaphragm. Thankfully, there’s somebody at Hogwarts as dumb as the rest of us and we’re told a diadem is ”a crown…like a tiara.”

Harry finds the Grey Lady, the ghost of the Ravenclaw house. Opinion: Ghosts were the second least advisable invention in the Potter-verse, since dealing with death is a huge theme in this story and having spirits of chatty wizards floating around weakens the more permanent tragedy of Harry’s own losses. (The No. 1 least advisable invention was, of course Book 3’s Time Turner, a device that allows any wizard to undo any event in the story; insanely massive power that professors gave to Hermione so she could do more schoolwork (!?); Rowling seemed to realize this issue herself when she had all the Time Turners conveniently wiped out in Book 5 during the Dept. of Mysteries fight and then explained they take years to rebuild. Uh huh. Screw the horcruxes and swords, Voldemort and Dumbledore should have stashed away some Time Turners if they really wanted to win).

The Gray Lady tells Potter the diadem is in the ”room of hidden things” — a version of the Room of Requirement the staff uses as its storage locker. Harry runs out and bumps into Ginny again and….

NEXT: Ron Weasley and The Chamber of Snogging; Severus severed

Oh. Hi, Ginny. She grabs him and mashes his lips while he stands there; it looks like somebody being kissed by their sister (or in this case, his friend’s sister).

Chamber of Secrets: Ron and Hermione enter the Chamber to fetch a tooth from the giant snake killed in Book 2 to help destroy the horcruxes. They stab the Hufflepuff cup and it causes an unexpected — and not very convincing looking — tsunami. Drenched, Ron and Hermione start making out — Yay, Ron Weasley and The Chamber of Snogging! As different as Ron and Hermione are as characters, this beat feels convincing. Being all responsible and deeply British, however, they quickly knock it off and get back upstairs to resume shaking their wands at bad guys.

Outside: Voldemort realizes another horcrux was destroyed and launches his biggest orgasmic hate spell yet, rupturing the force field. His men rush onto the grounds. The Battle of Hogwarts begins!

Room of Requirement: Harry uses his horcrux spidey sense to locate the diadem, but is interrupted by Draco and his henchmen (no Crabbe, sadly, the actor playing him fell under a cannabis spell and was arrested on pot charges so another character replaced him in this scene).

Goyle launches a fire spell that rages out of control. Joined by Ron and Hermione, our Harry snags some broomsticks and they fly to safety. But Malfoy and his friends are trapped. If Malfoy had betrayed Harry back at the mansion, I’d vote to leave his pale skinny butt here, but Harry swings on back (with Ron yelling, ”If we die for them, Harry, I’m going to kill you!”). He grabs the bully like he’s the world’s lankiest golden snitch.

Hogwarts Boat House: The filmmakers changed the location of this key scene from the duller-looking Shrieking Shack. But the boat house is still not a convincing Hogwarts setting since there’s no jet skis and there’s nothing more magical than riding a jet ski.

Voldemort says he cannot truly master the unbeatable Elder Wand because — OK, all the stuff about who owns the Elder Wand? Super-complicated and we’ll sum it up later. For now, let’s say Vold thinks he has to kill Snape. ”While you live, the wand can’t ever truly be mine,” the Dark Lord says. We wish Snape, whose hands wring behind his back while his face remains impassive, would have taken this as a clue to break cover and attack. Sadly, he doesn’t. Voldemort slashes his throat and the snake strikes him over and over. The filmmakers effectively make this moment truly awful while visually revealing very little. And now we come to—

NEXT: Snape’s heartbreaking redemption

The Dark Lord exits, leaving Harry and his friends to find Snape bleeding out. Seeing his longtime enemy dying, Harry’s empathy takes over and he tries to help. ”You have your mother’s eyes,” Snape says and tearfully gives him a thread of his memory.

Hogwarts: Harry returns through the rubble-filled Great Hall, littered with dead and wounded students. Awkward. Since Voldemort is demanding Harry’s surrender, you’d expect at least one of them to ask the Boy Who Keeps on Living: ”Um, so, just wondering, what your plan is here? Because we’re getting our butts kicked, and keep seeing you running away from the fighting, and all our lives depend on what you do next.” Harry takes Snape’s memory to —

Headmaster’s Office: Harry uses the Pensieve to watch Snape’s highlight reel. Is it just me, or is this series of flashbacks with Snape the most powerful scene in the film? Snape has been the bad guy for so long and yet this sequence is instantly heartbreaking. We see his friendship with Harry’s mother Lily, Snape the outcast, and — added to the film version — Snape finding and cradling Lily after she died. (Odd, Lily looks like somebody else in these scenes…huh, perhaps I’ll figure it out by the end of the recap). Basically, Snape was just a misunderstood Goth kid, shopping at Hot Topic, nursing a crush on Lily, and then lost her to a cool John Lennon-esque Quidditch jock. If only this were a Twilight movie he might have gotten some action.

Snape also discussed how to protect Harry with Dumbldeore, who assures ”I shall never reveal the best of you.”

”You kept him alive so he could die at the proper moment,” Snape says of Harry. ”You’ve been raising him like a pig for slaughter.”

This has to be brutal for Potter to hear. He worshipped Dumbledore and hated Snape, and realizes that Dumbledore was, to some extent, using him for the greater good of the wizarding world, and his enemy has been helping look out for his best interests. Good thing Harry didn’t gut-kick the heck out of Snape when he found him in the boat house or he would feel really bad about it now. As for Snape being misjudged for so long by so many, it serves as a life lesson for the kids: No matter how noble your intentions and how brave your heart, if you act like an asshat everybody is going to assume you’re an asshat.

Harry also realizes he’s the last horcrux and must die. It’s really one piece of awful news after another. He says goodbye to his friends and goes for a walk in the—

NEXT: Harry Potter dies!; Voldemort’s unbelievable mistake

Forbidden Forest: Using the snitch Dumbledore left him, Harry opens it by saying the password — he’s about to die — and the Resurrection Stone is inside. The stone brings forth the ”shades” of his deceased family members. They’re all super proud of him, sure, but basically say: Yeah, you still gotta die. Sorry. Get to it, tiger!

Harry finds Voldemort hanging out in the forest, with Hagrid tied up for sadistic kicks. Voldemort does the green flash Avada Kedavra curse and Harry wakes up in—

Purgatory: This is either a heavenly version of King’s Cross railway station or a really trendy Sunset Blvd. hotel lobby. Dumbledore is here too, along with an icky creepy Vold-fetus (the corrupted part of Harry’s soul that was the horcrux). In the book, Harry is naked, but producers wisely thought a nude Daniel Radcliff hanging out with an old bearded guy at a train station might distract viewers from their story. Dumbledore explains Harry can go back to living or move ”On.” Harry asks if this meeting is real or in his head, and Dumbledore replies with my favorite line in the film:

”Of course it’s in your head, Harry, but why should that mean it’s not real?”

Mindfreak, Potter! There is no spoon!

Forbidden Forest: So, Harry’s back, back again. J.K. Rowling got the best of both worlds here. Fans obsessed over whether Harry Potter would live or die in the final book and the answer is: Both. But now here comes the crazy silly part:

Voldemort has been trying to kill Harry for 17 years. He’s tried everything he can imagine and Harry keeps surviving — due to the power of magic. He finally strikes him down with a curse that didn’t work the last time. And Voldemort doesn’t check to see if Harry is dead. C’mon, You Know Who would have chopped off Harry’s noggin and mounted it on the school gates Game of Thrones style. Instead, he asks conflicted mom Narcissa Malfoy to check Harry while he waits a respectful distance away — because he’s always been such a trusting guy? No. No, no, no, no.

Hogwarts: Voldemort and his backers arrive at the school with Hagrid carrying Harry. We presume he’s pretending to be dead, but he might just be taking a much-needed nap — I mean, how long has it been since Harry got some quality shut-eye? The Dark Lord tells the Hogwarts kids they better join his side — or else. Malfoy is reluctantly coaxed forward and Voldemort gives him a hilariously awkward hug, like he’s never given one before and is trying to imitate how people do it.

Neville steps forward in defiance. He declares ”it doesn’t matter” that Harry Potter died. We get his point, but let’s hope Harry doesn’t take that the wrong way. Here the filmmakers cut out the darkest moment of the Potter books: Voldemort putting the Sorting Hat on Neville’s head and setting it on fire. Still surprised that actually happened and I’m not surprised it wasn’t in the movie.

Harry springs to life and runs off firing his wand. Voldemort is stunned. He must be thinking: You have GOT to be f—ing kidding me.

NEXT: Harry and Voldemort’s final battle; Elder Wand explained

Next, there’s lots of running and wand waving and shouting and wind and light. Harry and Voldemort are so cool at this point, they don’t even need to say spells aloud, they just fire wands at each other like they’re the world’s most awesome roman candles. Harry even throws himself and Voldemort off the top of Hogwarts — this doesn’t accomplish anything, but it sure looked cool as they imitate the Lost smoke monster flying around together.

Elsewhere: Ron and Hermione chase after Voldemort’s snake. You would think Voldemort would take a moment to apparate the damn thing to Fiji since it’s his final horcrux and everybody is clearly trying to kill it. But, as noted above, Voldemort is not making smart decisions today. Meanwhile, sword-swinging nerd god Neville slices the snake in half. Voldemort is, at last, mortal. (I mean, he’s still a super wizard, but if, for instance, a tractor ran him over, it could kill him).

Harry and Voldemort: Two gunslingers at high noon draw their wands and both struggle to defeat the other. Here’s the Wikipedia explanation of the whole confusing and logic-bending Elder Wand issue after Voldemort stole it from Dumbledore’s crypt:

”Assuming incorrectly that Snape is the wand’s current master, Voldemort slays Snape, not realizing that the wand’s allegiance was to Draco (even though Draco never had the Elder Wand physically in his possession). Furthermore, and unrealized by Voldemort, as Harry had subsequently disarmed Draco and taken his wand (although that was not the Elder Wand), the Elder Wand’s allegiance had since shifted to Harry. Voldemort uses the Elder Wand to cast his final Killing Curse against Harry’s Expelliarmus charm. But since the wand’s allegiance is to Harry, Voldemort’s spell backfires and kills him once and for all.”

So…yeah. In the book, the Dark Lord simply drops dead and we never learn what they do with his body. But that’s no fun. So in the movie, Voldemort slowly dissolves into ash, rather like Prof. Quirrell at the end of the first film. In 3-D, this has the rather disconcerting effect of feeling like a person’s remains are falling all over you.

Harry is victorious! At last. How would you celebrate? I’d run back to the Forbidden Forest to find the Resurrection Stone I dropped and then maybe see if Cho Chang has gotten over Cedric yet. But not Harry. He walks throughout the Great Hall, sees the stunned love of his life Ginny with her mother, promptly ignores her and goes to hang out with his friends. He not only doesn’t care about retrieving the Stone, he throws away his other Deathly Hallow, the Elder Wand, even though there’s sure to be plenty of bitter Death Eaters who might attack him at the local pub in the years to come. Then again, if Voldemort couldn’t kill Harry after nearly 20 years of trying, what chance does anybody else have?

So, what happens next?

NEXT: Harry Potter and the Horrors of Middle Age

So, what happens next? I’ll tell you what doesn’t happen: College. Nobody has any interest in getting a higher education in the Potter-verse. Kids reading Potter learn to graduate from high school, get a job and get married. Done!

So, 19 years later, we see near-middle-aged Potter & Friends. This scene was re-shot after photos from the first attempt at the epilogue leaked online and fans howled about how depressingly old the characters looked. Who can blame them? The real-life horror of a high school reunion isn’t anybody’s idea of a happy ending. So here, Hermione and Harry still look great. Ron, Ginny, and Malfoy are, eh, a bit less so, with Ron looking as if he discovered muggle affinity for big-screen TVs and laying on the couch. Malfoy is very skeezy, looking like a porn producer.

In addition to quickly settling down with their school sweethearts, several of our characters started having kids just a few years after graduation (are we sure Hogwarts is in Britain and not the Midwest?). Harry named his youngest after Snape and tells the boy the professor was ”the bravest man I ever knew.”

As for Harry and Ginny, don’t they look like a happy couple? No? Well, what did I tell you? I still don’t understand what Harry…oh no. No, no, no. I just realized who Harry’s mom in Snape’s flashback looks like. Think back. The actresses playing both young Lily in the field and grown-up Lily by Harry’s crib in the film look just like…Yes. To quote another dark lord: Search your feelings, you know it to be true. No wonder Harry was never into Hermione — he defeated Voldemort, but couldn’t overcome the most ancient form of dark magic, the Oedipus Complex.

Before I turn this over to you, a few random thoughts: Most of the Potter movies I enjoyed less than the books, yet Hallows Part 2 was an exception. The movies and books are tough to rank, which is a compliment, but I’d put them at 7.2 > 5 > 7.1 > 3 > 4 > 6 > 1 > 2 for the films while ranking the books 4 > 7 > 3 > 5 > 1> 6> 2…can’t say enough about the Goblet of Fire novel, Elf rights subplot aside, it’s a perfect story. Also, fans were upset John Williams didn’t return to score the final Potter film after reports he was in talks, but I enjoyed the darkly gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat. Follow me on Twitter here and check out Lisa Schwarzbaum’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 review here.

What do you think? Did HP7.2 live up to your expectations? Do you want more — like Harry Potter: The Next Generation: Episode 1: Revenge of the Malfoys — or are you satisfied? Is Ginny good enough for Harry (and is Hermione too hot for Ron?). Accio comments!