After the rambling first half of the final Harry Potter installment, the filmmakers get down to business to give the franchise a generally rewarding send-off. Although many integral supporting characters from the previous seven films are given short shrift, and some seemingly key plot twists break rather than rotate, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 strikes a resilient balance among emotion, story and spectacle.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) continue their search-and-destroy mission for the last three Horcruxes in order to finish off Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) once and for all. The trio exhibits considerably more focus than in the past. Thrills come during a wild roller-coaster journey deep into the subterranean bowels of the Gringotts Wizard Bank, where gold bars and goblets multiply like a wildfire infection inside Bellatrix Lestrange's (Helena Bonham Carter) vault of riches. When a gargantuan fire-breathing dragon helps our heroes escape onto the wistfully gray London streets above, the stuff of primordial fantasy doesn't get much more tastefully exotic.

Late character revelations deliver narrative surprises that relieve the 10-year series' overburdened accretions. Still, some crucial elements arrive too late. The promised romantic connections—Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny (Bonnie Wright)—come more as afterthoughts than with any significant internal veracity, reducing a "snog" to a blip.

After nearly 20 hours of story, the final climax comes down to a blow-out battle at Hogwarts against an army of Death Eaters and Dementors, finally allowing Dame Maggie Smith's Minerva McGonagall to have her day and steal the show for a brief moment. The special effects that follow, involving giant animated stone soldiers and impressive explosions, connect with their intended epic impact. The strategic design of Hogwarts' architecture, with its long wood bridge and lofty mountain-top placement, allows minds to bend and pupils to dilate at the stunning visuals.

Ciarán Hinds and John Hurt sink their teeth into their respective scenes as Aberforth Dumbledore and Ollivander. Their brief but weighty contributions to the roster of magisterial British actors add a sense of thespian nobility. Alan Rickman chews the scenery as the delightfully diabolical Severus Snape. When Severus' secret comes to light, so too does the most rewarding moment in the entire series.

In short, the dynamic Deathly Hallows: Part 2—particularly in comparison with the exasperating Part 1—offers a satisfactory reward for ardent Potterphiles. But for the slightly less obsessed, it hardly seems worth the work. Indeed, the drawn-out, often needless convolutions that populate the franchise call into question the filmmakers' (and even JK Rowling's) overall construction. But, as they say at graduations everywhere, this may only be the beginning.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Directed by David Yates
With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bonnie Wright, Maggie Smith, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt and Alan Rickman

Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
130 min.