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The "Harry Potter" series is one of the great sustained achievements in fiction, a fully imagined mirror world with a lingo and lore of its own. Like the previous seven movies, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" obliviates the line between art and craft, but the witchcraft conjured for this satisfying finale is uniquely generous.

Although this percolating cauldron contains double doses of myth and mayhem, it's also the shortest in the series, because the producers shrewdly split the final book in two. Whereas "Part 1" was a rare and disturbing departure from the Hogwarts School to the blighted world beyond the castle walls, "Part 2" hurls Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) back to the gothic Ground Zero, where he is fated to fight to the death against the embodiment of evil, the wizard-turned-warlord Voledmort (Ralph Fiennes).

But first, as in a multilevel video game, Harry has to finish collecting little pieces of Voldemort's soul, called horcruxes.

Much of the movie, including a rickety railway plunge into a subterranean bank vault, is such an obvious template for a theme-park ride that it stops functioning as drama. But if you're not into thrill rides or video games or the whole Chosen One mythology, you can entertain yourself by spotting the references to classic movies. Starting with the first foggy fade-in, my scribbled list of allusions included "Citizen Kane," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jurassic Park," "West Side Story," "Spartacus," "Aliens," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Gone With the Wind." And I'm pretty sure that somewhere in the middle, Hermione inserted a commercial for Burberry perfume.

Regrettably, know-it-all Hermione (Emma Watson) and gallant galoot Ron (Rupert Grint) are relegated to the chorus here — although they're given a conspicuously odd moment for their long-awaited make-out session. The spotlight inevitably shifts to Harry and Voldemort (who actually grins at one point, when he's on the verge of over-running Hogwarts with his army of brave-hearted Death Eaters).

But we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that, for the past decade, this sterling series has gathered Great Britain's finest actors. Here we get a few minutes with John Hurt, who measures and fiddles with other men's wands, and Maggie Smith, who giggles after she unleashes an army of statues, and even Michael Gambon, who returns as the dead Dumbledore to give Harry a metaphorical fortune cookie.

Rather than Radcliffe, who adds very few new wrinkles to Harry's heroic character (despite aging almost 20 years for the epilogue), the showiest performance belongs to Alan Rickman as the two-sided Severus Snape. The cunning new headmaster chews every line like it was a peppermint toad, and a flashback about his love for Harry's mother adds emotional depth to this effects-heavy film.

Yet, when we pull back the curtain, we realize that the real heroes of "Harry Potter" are the unsung soldiers who built the series into something so solidly entertaining. Let us raise a mug of butterbeer for the Neville Longbottoms of Hogwarts and Hollywood, who sacrificed their claims to fame so that Harry might triumph.


"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"

Three and half stars (out of four) • Rating PG-13 • Run time 2:10 • Content Intense action violence and frightening images