So, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has opened now, and concluded an eight-film, ten-year, decade-defining franchise, and it does so in exactly the way you would expect it to do if you read the book, saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and/or any of the six books and films preceding them. And it's pretty gosh-darn likely that, if you are planning on seeing Deathly Hallows 2 in its theatrical run, you've done at least one of those things; not too many people, I ween, sit around of a Saturday night, thinking, "I've avoided the entire multi-media franchise for 14 years now, but dammit, I suppose it's better than paying money to see Bad Teacher a third time". What you think right now will be your reaction to the movie is virtually certain to be your actual reaction, which among other things means I feel even more useless than usual writing this review.

The plot, if you are interested in knowing the plot, is a little something like this: having learned what he needs to do to kill the evil dark wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and begun doing it in Deathly Hallows 1, 17-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) proceeds to go through the longest day of his life, beginning when he and his closest friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) sneak into a massively high-security goblin bank to steal a MacGuffin, proceeding through their return to their beloved magic school at Hogwarts, into a crazy-huge battle that involves every single character who hasn't died yet and some who have, except for Imelda Staunton's Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because I am to be denied even this small pleasure.

Not terribly long ago, I predicted the following would be my response to the film: "I'm going to give it 7/10, be grateful it's so much better than the wobbly-paced Deathly Hallows: Part 1, hate on the incompetence of how the epilogue, already the worst part of the book, was executed, and rank it fourth of the eight movies (barely ahead of Prisoner of Azkaban, which looks better but can't compete with the action setpieces in the new one)." That was pretty close, but the film clocked in a little south of my expectations. I'd actually rank it fifth, and I briefly flirted with giving it a 6/10, but everything else was pretty spot-on. And why shouldn't it be? As much as it is noteworthy for anything else in particular, what has remained shocking above all else regarding the Harry Potter franchise is how inordinately consistent Überproducer David Heyman has managed to keep the quality level (absent the shitty first two, Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, both of them perpetrated by the miserable hack Chris Columbus) across four directors, six cinematographers, five editors, four composers, and one intensely over-worked production designer in the form of Stuart Craig, whose last non-Potter movie was The Legend of Bagger Vance all the way back in 2000, and who must be uniquely pleased out of all the hundreds of men and women who've sunk time into the series that at long goddamn last he can move on to doing anything else in the whole wide world.

So consistent are the films, that even when I want to accuse a certain sliver of ennui of having crept into Deathly Hallows 2, I can't quite convince myself it's there. In David Yates's direction, absolutely: having now helmed four consecutive Potter pictures, it would appear that Yates has officially run out of ideas, or at least run out of interesting ways to stage fights involving glowing jets of light; for example, the big huge amazing series-ending combat between Harry and Voldemort uses basically the exact same blocking as the same combatants' fight in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth movie, all the way back in 2005, under the hand of director Mike Newell. And the aforementioned giant battle scene involving every last damn person we've ever seen is, y'know, fine. It has plenty of shiny, anyway. (I should mention, though, that the visual effects are wildly inconsistent. The magic shield around Hogwarts: beautiful, poetic, heavenly. The abused dragon in the goblin vaults: phenomenally convincing. And then you have a race through a burning room that looks like a 2002 video game).

What hurts the film in a lot of places and helps it in some, is that Yates is far too palpably aware that he's directing the very last Harry Potter movie, and he treats it like a holy text. Which, for hundreds of thousands of people in the target audience, it sort of us. Anyway, the suffocating, elegiac feeling of Deathly Hallows 1 comes back in full force, and at times it works: the first shot of the movie, following a short recap of the last scene of the preceding movie, is a hugely chilling image of Hogwarts draped in dead grey fog, surrounded by the skeletal forms of the Dementors, the series' joy-sucking spirits. I get it: the books and movies alike are about dealing with loss as you grow up, and if I can have a screaming loud summer movie of clamor and explosions, or I can have one of Bergmanesque hushes and clammy lighting, I will take the latter. I would not, however, mind a mixture somewhere in between those two poles, either. As it stands, the impossible apocalyptic grandeur of the destruction of Hogwarts, though imposing and epic and beautiful and all that, is incredibly staid, as well, choking on its own sense of destructive import.

Then, on the other hand, for all that Yates just plain gives up (and he is joined by Alexandre Desplat, whose score for this film - his second in the series - is one of the most top-to-bottom impersonal things he's done in ages, with its best moment a choice restatement of John William's now ten-year-old "Hedwig's Theme" in the scene that Harry returns to Hogwarts), there's quite a lot that's just as good or better as it should be: Eduardo Serra's glacial cinematography, picking right up where he left off with the wintry Deathly Hallows 1, is gorgeous, haunting, and bleak, and not remotely the kind of thing you expect to see in a major tentpole movie; Stuart Craig's small handful of new designs (especially the inside of the goblin bank) are as rich and imaginative as ever. The cast in this film is, I would consider arguing, the best across the board ever: all three of the main leads are firing on all cylinders, for a change, and there is not a single member of the hugely over-loaded ensemble giving less than they need to, though some, like Jim Broadbent and Miriam Margolyes, don't really have to do much besides appear onscreen. But familiar faces like Julie Walters and Michael Gambon and David Thewlis treat their cameos with all due sincerity, new additions Kelly Macdonald and Ciarán Hinds slide into the cast smoothly, Maggie Smith steals the best moment she's had since the first or maybe second film in a little triumphant giggle at the end of a tense confrontation scene, and two members of the cast do their best work in the series ever: Helena Bonham Carter, largely wasted in the last couple of films, has a magnificent small scene playing Emma Watson doing nervous Bonham Carter impersonation - it makes sense in context - that redeems all the times she's just stood there and looked angry, while Alan Rickman, always one of the best figures onscreen in any of these films, is absolutely damn incredible in his very last scene, the one where we learn all the facts in the case of his icy pseudo-villain Severus Snape.

The story is... well, it's the story. It can't help but feel a bit of an anticlimax, partially because most of the audience already knows exactly what happens, and partially because the movies hew too closely to J.K. Rowling's over-praised pastiches & fantasy boilerplate, including all of the drippy misjudgments that plague the last 150 pages of her last novel; the movie faithfully recreates the book's atrocious epilogue, thankfully shortening it but also using some of the most blisteringly terrible "age makeup" effects conceivable: poor Radcliffe looks like he's going in a plastic mask of himself for Halloween, while Emma Watson has... straighter hair?

But yes, the story plays out, and out, and out, and though this is the shortest of all Potter films at 130 minutes, it would have been better, I still insist, to have combined both Deathly Hallows pictures into one indulgent 3-hour epic, and spared them both from the draggy portions that make them each seem longer than they are, especially since even the inflated lenght doesn't make Part 2 any less incoherent than the frequently rattletrap abridgment found in the first six movies. That said, the new film is a good deal fleeter than the last one, and Yates or writer Steven Kloves or somebody manages anyway to keep the action shifting from moment to moment with some degree of energy and momentum; and there are just enough patches of gallows humor and fist-pump moments to keep the whole thing from being too damn dark for its own good.

Not the be-all and end-all of its series, nor of summer blockbusters, but the source material was never going to let that happen. Think of it instead as the lingering farewell to a fun ride, the last chance we'll get to visit these characters as embodied by these actors, a bit too serious for its own good, but then again, it is a good-bye. I suspect that cinema will recover just fine from the end of the Harry Potter franchise, but for right this moment, it's worth nodding one's head in acknowledgment that the films' blend of humor and darkness and whimsy and seriousness is a welcome respite from the empty-headed jangling of so many popcorn movies. The end-of-an-era sentiment overhanging it all is overstated, but 20-hour epics like this are rare, all the more so when they're mostly pretty good.