Review in a Hurry: Former boy wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), now fully grown, appears in his darkest movie to date (thematically and literally). He and BFFs Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) scour a ravaged countryside searching for parts of Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes') soul.
If you're a fan, it's everything you've wanted. If not, be aware that this isn't the movie to get started with.
The Bigger Picture: Big-budget sequels to kids' movies don't get much grimmer than this one, which begins with torture and a scary snake, features the deaths of major characters, constantly reminds us that others are being massacred, and generally has our heroes feeling hopeless about 90 percent of the time.
With almost every major player from the prior six in the series returning, at least briefly (notably excluding Emma Thompson, busy with Nanny McPhee; and Zoe Wanamaker, who asked for more money after the first one and was denied) and a heaping helping of new, unpronounceably named additions, it's tough enough to keep track--even if you have seen every film.
Leaving the confines of the Hogwarts magic school, Harry, Ron, and Hermione warp back and forth across barren landscapes with nothing but a TARDIS-like tent that's bigger inside than out, and Hermione's infinitely deep handbag.
Voldemort's hot on their trail, which he demonstrates by unleashing destruction anytime the trio ventures near friends or heavily populated events.
Director David Yates, who has gotten steadily better at these films since a shaky start on Order of the Phoenix, never lets us forget that we are seeing a world at war, albeit a magical one...and the good guys are losing.
Since this only the first of a two-part larger movie, it isn't really spoiling to say that they don't get much closer to victory as yet. With long stretches of actual character development between action sequences, and the pervasive scary and depressing atmosphere, this may not be a film to take younger children to. Not to mention there's a near-nude imaginary makeout scene which feels inappropriate, though certain fans of the leads have likely been clamoring for it.
But kids who grew up with the books as they came out should be at the right maturity level, and may ultimately come to see the Deathly Hallows as their Empire Strikes Back. And those who criticized perceived plot holes in prior installments may find some of those issues are resolved, as indeed they were intended to be all along.
Sadly, Alan Rickman's glorious Professor Snape barely says a word this time around. Presumably that will be remedied in Part 2.
The 180--a Second Opinion: Yates has gotten far better with his actors, but the action scenes are occasionally dodgy. The opening air attack isn't as coherent as it ought to be, and a climactic forest chase is edited to shreds. Not a deal-breaker, yet, but he'd better not mess up the final battle in the next flick.