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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premieres tonight

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At the same time, because it took two films to depict the action in the last installment, this second half doesn't feel overstuffed or overlong. It moves with great urgency toward the final showdown between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, deeply disturbing as usual); danger infuses every moment, and it never overstays its welcome.

Much of that has to do with the look of the film, both in its attention to inventive detail and to the sweeping, elaborate set pieces. The cinematography from Eduardo Serra, who also shot "Deathly Hallows: Part 1," is once again richly ominous and beautifully bleak. Here, Hogwarts isn't a warm, bustling place full of possibilities but rather a fearsome fortress swarming with Death Eaters, where Professor Severus Snape (the deliciously icy Alan Rickman) rules as if leading his own fascist regime.

Yes, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is in 3-D — it's the only installment in the series to be presented that way — and as usual, that was unnecessary. The technical elements all looked flawless and immersive in the previous film. (Warner Bros. wisely chose not to rush the conversion from 2-D on "Deathly Hallows: Part 1," and instead took more time for the process here.) But the addition of a third dimension does allow some details to pop, and it's never a distraction.

Although the "Potter" films have always been about the escape of the spectacle, the kids and their struggle to navigate both good and evil provides some much-needed rooting in reality. Radcliffe has never been better, and brief flashbacks to the earliest images of him in the role only serve as a reminder of how far he's come. The character has long since been cemented into his identity, but more is required of him physically and emotionally than ever before, and he's more than up for it all.

"Deathly Hallows: Part 2" drops us into a menacing version of this world we've come to know, immediately and without explanation; it's a bit disorienting at first, even if you've seen all that's come before it. Then again, if you're bothering to check out the finale, in theory you should know what's going on.

Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are still hunting Horcruxes — scattered containers that hold pieces of Voldemort's soul, which are crucial to Harry's survival — in order to destroy them. One of them is being stored in Bellatrix Lestrange's bank vault, which allows Helena Bonham Carter to have a bit of fun with her wicked character. Hogwarts is no longer a place of refuge as Voldemort draws ever closer; his attack on the stately school is thrilling, but it also provides moments of heroism for some characters you might not expect.

Still, this is the place where all the narrative and emotional threads must converge and tie up at last. While "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" offers long-promised answers, it also dares to pose some eternal questions, and it'll stay with you after the final chapter has closed.

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