WARNING: Heavy spoilers involved.
There is an intrinsic way in which this last Harry Potter movie works that is almost inexpressible in words. There is a way in which the actors seem to fit and the dialogue seems to flow. The visual effects seem effortless. Something...different. Unusual. Almost magical.
It is this trait, this "it", this "touch" if I may call it, that occupies the essence of every great movie that ever resonated with me. I knew, quite literally, everything that was going to happen in this movie, yet, I was at the edge of my seat at points. I was intrigued, touched and affected by this movie. It is simply put: The Harry Potter movie. As it should be. As its fans wanted and expected it to be.
So where do we start? As James Lipton likes to say, "Let us begin, as we always do, at the beginning". And for every Harry Potter movie, the beginning is always with the director!
David Yates, who seems to have grown a particular experience in Potter film-making over the years since his first Potter movie (Order of the Phoenix), directs with an eye for style and cinematography that would have, I think, not been possible except with someone like him behind the camera. Perhaps only Peter Jackson, director of the modern Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, would have managed something as simultaneously emotional and grand.
Leaving aside the huge improvements in the acting performances of the starring trio (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), I think this movie, acting-wise, survives mainly on Alan Rickman's role as Severus Snape. Rickman has a way of attracting attention and generating emotion without even having a line to say. It is this remarkable talent that Yates puts to exquisite use in a sequence of scenes (entitled The Prince's Tale in the book) that is the strongest in all the movie series. Rickman need only a few lines to express himself verbally; the rest flows effortlessly from him. I think the entire Potter series served as a rediscovery of Rickman's acting talent who, according to Rowling, was one of the few actors who knew everything about his character from the beginning.
Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack revisits the unforgettable Hedwig's Theme (first composed by John Williams for the very first Harry Potter movie) at several points during the course of the film and makes use of very grand music, that is reminiscent of Howard Shore's work on The Lord of the Rings, during the battle scenes.
There are occasions where I felt the movie did not do the book justice (I was not too happy with Dumbledore's past being addressed on such a superficial level and, of course, the King's Cross scene obviously deserved more time and thought than what it eventually got). Certain sequences deviated from the book entirely; Voldemort's death being completely changed was most probably a really big decision by the crew. A bold decision but something I found personally unsatisfying. I remember the words Rowling used to describe Voldemort's final fall (they are quite memorable!) : that Tom Riddle fell with a "mundane finality". I waited for finality on that scene and got none! Just a daze of special effects. Good for the average moviegoer, unsatisfying for a fan who stuck with the series for nearly a decade.
As Roger Ebert already remarked, the movie takes place almost completely in very dim lighting. So the added dimness of 3D makes for just an added annoyance. Again, something I did not much like. But leave all of this aside: All of this was compensated by the sequence of scenes I talked about earlier. That was it, for me.
The books and movies have ended. But the fandom continues. The thing about fantasy is: There is always an untold story. This is the beauty of it. This is its magic. Rowling told her story. And every fan can always have his own.