Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I marks the beginning of the end: the final chapters in the big screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling's phenomenal book series. Rabid fans have been waiting for this with bated breath, ready to soak up the final hours with characters they've been bonding with for years. Seeing the final book brought to life will be enough to bring devotees back to the theater for multiple viewings, but the good news is that Deathly Hallows Part I is emotionally gripping, intensely horrifying, and utterly engrossing. In other words, it's a great movie in its own right.
Gone are the games of Quidditch and eventful rides on the Hogwarts express. After Dumbledore's death, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his army of dark wizards (the Death Eaters) have regained control. They've gone beyond the magical world and have started to terrorize the "Muggles" (non-wizard folk) as well. Determined to wipe out anyone who isn't a pureblood wizard, the Death Eaters have taken to cruel and ruthless methods that are reminiscent of the Holocaust. At their helm, Voldemort will not rest until he's finally destroyed the only wizard who still stands in his path to ruling the world: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).
Harry isn't safe anywhere, so he sets off into hiding with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). His only chance at survival (and saving the wizarding world), is to destroy Voldemort, but it's not as easy as a simple spell. He must find and destroy the seven pieces of Voldemort's soul before the final showdown with the dark wizard himself, which proves to be an emotionally taxing adventure that's both exhilarating and terrifying. For more on why you should see it, just keep reading.
As you can imagine, said showdown doesn't happen in the first installment of The Deathly Hallows, but that doesn't mean there's no action to be had in Part One. Though Harry and his friends are skilled enough to protect themselves on their quest, the tasks at hand are impossible to accomplish without some interaction with the real world. There's no shortage of duels, near-death experiences (and for some characters, actual death), and suspenseful scenes. Even knowing that Harry is going to stay alive for now doesn't detract from some of the more complex fight sequences.
Never before has Harry's crusade been more dire, or closer to home. As the line blurs between the fantasy world and our own, it's clear that the franchise has grown up with its actors: this isn't kid stuff anymore. As evidenced in the film's opening scene, which shows Voldemort's giant snake feasting on an innocent human, parents should take heed of the PG-13 rating.
Though the razzle-dazzle of Hogwarts is replaced with the darkness of the Death Eaters' reign, there's a surprising amount of tenderness in the film. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are 17 now, which not only means that their real-life counterparts are more equipped to handle the heavy subject matter, but their problems feel more universal. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Harry has to face the fact that he can't do everything on his own, while Ron and Hermione are still fighting their feelings for each other. The close relationship between the three friends creates a kind of comedy that you only see among families: in the face of some of the darkest material the franchise has ever seen, all three are constantly prepared with a sarcastic comment or playful jab. In the end, the film manages to be an effective introduction to the final installment because it manages to be intense and funny, leaving you wanting more.
Will The Deathly Hallows Part I be remembered as more than just a precursor to the main event? Probably not, but we'd be remiss to overlook director David Yates's ability to bring emotion to the surface before diving into the nitty gritty. When the film ends, we know we're just at the calm before the storm, but a great ending is only as good as its lead-in.