Playtime is over. The boy wizard who has captivated audiences since his literary introduction in 1997 is at last ready for his final curtain call. Harry Potter is officially a young man in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" ("Part 2" is due out in July 2011). And, as is common when anyone crosses the bridge from adolescence to adulthood, things have become decidedly more complicated for Mr. Potter.
From the onset it is clear "Hallows" is a darker, more intense offering than past installments. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), are still reeling from the death of their beloved headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. But there is little time for grief. Dark wizards led by the serpentine Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) have seized control of the wizarding world, casting an ominous shadow on all things magical.
Voldemort has his sights set on eliminating Harry once and for all, while the few heroic wizards still left standing believe Harry is their only hope. Following a fierce aerial battle that leaves one wizard dead and another injured, Harry and company prepare to regroup. A wedding between Ron's older brother Bill and Triwizard Tournament competitor Fleur Delacour initially seems like a good opportunity for a temporary reprieve from the chaos -- until a surprise attack forces Harry, Ron and Hermione to set out on their own.
The trio endeavors to find and destroy four remaining Horcruxes (magical objects that empower Voldemort). It will take perseverance, teamwork and trust to track down the Horcruxes and steer clear of Voldie and his horde of foul followers (including the maniacal Bellatrix Lestrange, played perfectly by Helena Bonham Carter). With help from a few surprising friends, Harry and his pals may actually stand a chance.
Keeping a core cast together -- specifically Radcliffe, Grint and Watson -- through seven (soon to be eight) films is astounding, and the creative minds behind the entire franchise deserve a lot of credit. The three lead actors demonstrate a maturity that truly carries the film. Although all three have different thespian strengths, their growth and established confidence in one another are obvious. Veteran actors Bill Nighy and Bonham Carter serve up strong supporting performances.
The visual effects are top-notch and have seemed to get better with each film. Director David Yates, who helmed the two previous Potter pictures ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"), gives the film a hint of independent flair with the use of occasional hand-held camerawork. The effect makes the story feel more intimate. "Hallows" is rife with compelling scenes, but one in which Harry, Hermione and Ron drink Polyjuice Potion in order to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic is easily among the film's best.
Fans who were, say, 10 when "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was released in bookstores will now be 23 or 24 for these final two films. They have virtually grown up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. And to now see Harry facing adversity as an adult, battling overwhelming odds with little help, is at once scary and inspiring.
Yates, Radcliffe and the rest of the Potter posse are giving fans exactly what they deserve -- a powerful denouement worthy of a boy wizard who has charmed the world for more than a dozen years.