Disguise and Consent: Who are these people behind Harry? Just go with it.
Disguise and Consent: Who are these people behind Harry? Just go with it.

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

So, so much Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling’s seven books about the Boy Who Lived are lethal-weapon-size; each of the corresponding film adaptations have pushed, if not exceeded, two and a half hours. At the beginning of the first half of the seventh part of the tale (Rowling’s finale has been split into two films), our whip-smart but Muggle-born Hermione is wiping the minds of her parents, protecting them from a wizarding government that’s hellbent on destroying so-called Mudbloods. “Obliviate,” she whispers. The spell may as well be cast on the consumers of all things Potter. No matter how well-written the books or absorbing the movies, the trouble with all this excess has been that once you’re done with the ride, you can barely remember what just happened.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is no different. At 145 minutes, it illogically breezes by, even if much of the story shows our heroes doing little but hiding, fighting, and strategizing. With returning director David Yates at the helm and the most experienced Potter scripter, Steve Kloves, adapting, Deathly Hallows is the darkest installment yet, both literally and figuratively: Even in daylight, this world’s a dark gray-green as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) talk about Death Eaters and their minions gaining control of Hogwarts, not to mention Harry’s status as Undesirable No. 1. The trio decide not to return to their beloved school, instead tasking themselves with finding Horcruxes, talismans containing bits of the wretched soul of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the You-Know-Who who killed Harry’s parents when he was an infant and now plots to kill Harry. There are car crashes (!), reverse witch trials, and lots of talk about death, with a particularly black sequence of shadowy animation describing exactly what the Deathly Hallows are.

But Harry Potter 7 is also funny and sexy. (Yes, accept it: These kids are all grown up.) The most amusing bits involve Polyjuice Potion, an elixir that allows wizards to assume the guise of another; one early scene offers seven Harrys before transporting the real one to a safe house, the better to confuse Voldemort. This scene, like another in which the threesome infiltrate the now-evil Ministry of Magic, skillfully balances humor and danger like a mystical take on the buddy-action flick.

Outsiders may be a bit puzzled by some of the plot developments here—why, for example, Harry, Hermione, and sometimes Ron need to spend a great deal of the film living outdoors in various locations isn’t fully explained—but Kloves does do some dialogue-rejiggering to render some exposition without completely dumbing things down for neophytes. As always, the story boils down to Good vs. Evil; newcomers should never feel too lost.

The film’s biggest flaw is one that couldn’t be helped: Rowling places all the emphasis on the kids, who are usually sulking, and tosses the franchise’s colorful supporting characters to the sidelines, if they show up at all. We get only glimpses, for instance, of the Dursleys, the horrible Muggle family Harry’s grown up with, as well as Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Their relative absence might not have had as big an impact if Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint were more than merely workaday actors, but the young’uns occasionally have difficulty carrying big chunks of the movie by themselves. Still, their relationships with each other are evolving just enough to keep things interesting. In fact, how the characters interact is ultimately more memorable than what, exactly, they do.