Verdict: It's going to be one heck of a showdown... when it finally happens.
Nine years, six films and four directors later, the juggernaut that is J.K. Rowling's fantasy series about boy-wizard Harry Potter is coming to an end. Well, almost.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the final book in the series and to do it justice it has been split in two. Part 1, which still manages to hit the two-and-a-half hour mark, is in 2D and Part 2, due in July 2011, will be in 3D.
On its own, Harry Potter 7.1 is just a good film, but considered as the lead-in to the showdown between Harry Potter and the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), it's a great one.
Director David Yates, (who also took care of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) has instilled an overwhelming sense of doom and desperation throughout this latest instalment. The whole film buzzes along with a new, nervous intensity as all involved realise that this is it, everything that has come before has led Harry (Radcliffe) and his best friends Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) to the approaching final moment.
The Minister for Magic (Bill Nighy) isn't exaggerating when he declares: "These are dark times, there's no denying." The days of practising spells and playing quidditch at Hogwarts are long gone, the mood has changed and death has never been as close. The tone of this film is much darker and more emotionally challenging for the still young actors, and they rise to the challenge. It might have taken six films, but finally they look comfortable in their characters and interact convincingly together.
It's a good thing, too, because this film is all about these three 17-year-olds.
Old familiar faces do pop up, and there's a few new ones (Nighy, Rhys Ifans) but Part 1 mostly features the Harry, Ron and Hermione unrequited love triangle. This gets a little tedious during the middle of the film where the trio spends most of their time camping, and pondering what to do next, which slows the pace down somewhat.
Thankfully, Yates throws plenty of frightening little surprises at us, aided by superb special effects that keep the momentum going, and will drive younger children on to their parents' laps.
That said, this is not the time to suddenly become a Harry Potter fan. If you haven't read the books or seen any of previous films, then this film will make no sense to you at all. If you're a dedicated Potterite there are plenty of references to events and characters from previous films for you to wrap your head around as we charge towards the conclusion of this series.
And if Part 1 is anything to go by, and if Yates can continue to increase the intensity and jeopardy of his characters in Part 2, then we're in for one breathtaking, thrilling finale. July never felt so far away.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Director: David Yates
Running Time: 146 mins
Rating: M (Violence)