Harry Potter movies are no longer for kids. Admittedly, they started phasing tykes out with Goblet of Fire, when uber-villain Lord Voldemort made his grand return and 16-year-old Cedric Diggory (played by a pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson) hit the cold, hard ground dead.
By now, with the seventh and final installment Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry, Hermoine, and Ron have come of age, and the movie reflects that. It is, by far, the most adult film the HP team has made, and it’s also their best—on par with Lord of the Rings in storytelling, cinematography, and flat-out terror. Director David Yates has finally found his rhythm, having done so spectacularly with the fifth movie Order of the Phoenix (the second, after Goblet, to earn a PG-13 rating) and so terribly with the sixth, Half-Blood Prince (back to PG, a regression in grit and logic. Shoelace?!).
Now back in PG-13 territory, Harry, Hermoine, and Ron leave the cushy common room of Gryffindor for a life on the run, fleeing murderous Voldemort and his Death Eaters while also trying to save wizardkind and destroy Horcruxes. Don’t know what a Horcrux is? Deathly Hallows isn’t telling—there’s a lot of presumed prior knowledge here, which is satisfying for a fan who doesn’t want the movie’s high-speed chases bogged down by detail, and likely infuriating for someone who just wanted to see an entertaining fantasy-thriller.
But there’s something more to Deathly Hallows, something that goes beyond the thrill of the ride. Relying heavily on its three young stars—who spend a lot of time by themselves in the woods—Yates gives Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint a chance to show that, after nearly a decade in Harry Potter camp, they’ve learned how to act. Relationships have subtext, and aside from an awkward naked embrace between Harry and Hermoine (a nasty vision that emerges when Ron tries to smash the Horcrux), their friendships really seem the kind worth fighting for. There’s a lot more to lose in a man’s war—including your house elf.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One is in theaters nationwide on November 19. Part Two is in theaters in July 2011.