The Boy Who Lives

With this week’s release of “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” Harry Potter is poised to solidify his place as the greatest action-movie hero of all time.

Like Peter Parker, he came to accept the great responsibility that comes with great power – even if it made those already awkward teenage years far more difficult.

Like Frodo Baggins, he took on a long, bigger-than-him quest, aided by all-too-human friends as loyal to him as he to them.

Like Luke Skywalker, he saw the disturbing layers of his past peel away as he grappled with evil that was much an internal force as external.

Like James Bond – um, well, he's a loyal subject of Her Majesty.

We expect, though, with this week's premiere of “Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the eighth and final chapter in a decade-long magical film odyssey, there will be no more comparisons: Harry Potter is poised solidify his place as the greatest action-movie hero of all time.

The bespectacled boy wizard, given life in words by J.K. Rowling and embodied on the screen by Daniel Radcliffe, might seem an unlikely choice to top that pantheon. But Harry’s outward lack of a tough-guy persona, like that of, say, Han Solo, Indian Jones or John McClane, is a big part of his appeal.

Perhaps the key to the success of the series, though, is that we’re part of Harry's journey through Hogwarts and beyond, a trip experienced in what passes for real time in cinematic years. The flicks, great from the start, largely got better and more satisfyingly complex with each installment (though we still have some problems with the emphasis of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”). No movie series has proved as strong in sustaining essentially one storyline over so many films, relying primarily on one character, while retaining such a consistently a high-level of quality.

That speaks to the talent of various directors who brought differing visions to a collection of films that darkened in tone over time. It's hard to imagine anyone but Chris Columbus directing “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the series’ buoyant and brilliant 2001 debut. But it’s harder to imagine anyone but Alfonso Cuarón bringing the hint of menace that began to make even the adults uneasy only three years later in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” or anyone but David Yates creating the sense of sinister chaos he infused into 2007’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” perhaps the best of the series.

The durability of the Potter movies also speaks to the power of this boy with the scar, the boy we've burned our own impressions upon as we've watched him go from a confused, pre-adolescent Dickensian misfit to a battle-and-tragedy-tested young man with a clarity of purpose – a character whose power derives from his heart, more than from any old wand.

As Harry matured, so did a generation of children who grew up watching the movies – even while the films gave us older fans license to re-immerse ourselves in a youthful time when stakes always felt impossibly high, yet everything seemed possible. Now we're all set to take one final trip together with Harry in his all-out fight against the fully realized face of evil.

The famous first chapter of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was called "The Boy Who Lived." But with the movie series coming to an end, let's change the verb tense: Harry Potter is the boy who lives – on screen and in our collective imagination as a hero for all times.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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