This review doesn't matter. I know it. You know it. Half the reviews you read will say the same thing. If you're interested in seeing the 7th film in this franchise, no review is going to deter you. If you're a die-hard fan, nothing will stop you. If you're a casual viewer... it might, but it won't. Why? Because this will be one hell of a positive review.
Part 1 of the final installment picks up with the trio of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) preparing themselves for what they know is coming. The Order of the Phoenix must transport Harry to safety from his house. Once safely at the Burrow, Harry decides he must leave as soon as possible to find the remaining Horcruxes, the pieces of Voldemort's soul that he must find and destroy before going after the beast himself. Meanwhile, Voldemort is in search of a new wand, as his and Harry's share a core and are technically brothers; therefore, they cannot be used against each other. The trio end up on the road, endlessly searching for Horcruxes and, eventually, anything that can help them destroy Horcruxes. The trip will pit them against Death Eaters, Snatchers, the Ministry of Magic, nature, and even themselves.
This movie is dark. It's not a light movie whatsoever. Yes, there are some light and humorous moments sprinkled throughout, but they're not incredibly common. The stakes are high, and the film shows us this. They say with every installment that it'll be "the darkest one yet." And, sure, it is darker than the previous. But if you were to put this one a scale in comparison to the last two films, it's a good 4 or 5 notches ahead. And this means it captured the book pretty well.
So let's get into how it was adapted and get that out of the way. Obviously, if you haven't read the books or watched the other movies, you're going to be incredibly lost. This movie hinges on the fact that you know the world and its characters. On the whole, this was an insanely faithful adaptation. And why shouldn't it be? It had 2 and a half hours to adapt roughly 2/3s of a book. The other films get that long (or even less) to adapt the entire thing. But is it like the first two films, where it was a bit... too faithful? No. I don't think so.
Because it had this extra time, the movie was able to slow its pace and give us some introspective. This movie is very much a character piece. It's all about how the characters interact with each other. There are entire moments where they stare off silently in deep thought, and you're left to watch the anguish or confusion or hopelessness on their faces. And much more than any of the other movies, there is a lot of intensity to the acting. And by this I mean they don't put all their acting chops on stressing words or what have you, but instead on the subtlety in their faces and expressions.
There is a lot of amazing acting all around, from those who've been around from the beginning to those new to the series (such as Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour). But the film rests almost completely on the shoulders of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, all of whom give some amazing performances. I've always felt Emma Watson was the least of the three, but by God does she deliver some amazing stuff in this film... particularly near the end in a scene I won't spoil if you've not read the books.
There is also a lot of heart involved with these characters. You know them inside and out and how they work. You know Ron and Hermione are into each other, and you know that Ron has a jealous streak. So when emotions run high, the slightest things can tear them apart. But at the same time, the simplest things can pull them together, such as a dance with a friend when you're feeling down.
The magic is still there, too, though. It's not all grit and grime. From bottomless bags to flying motorcycles to full-out wizard duels, it's all there and more... including probably every spell that has ever been used in the entire series. Of course, it isn't all happy and full of wonderment, but that's to be expected when you have a movie full of Nazi symbolism, death, and destruction. And yes, there is death. By the time a certain scene comes up, I didn't cry like I did in the book, but I came damn close.
What also helps the film, besides the gorgeous visuals and cinematography, is the music (and lack thereof). I once heard that the best film score is the one you don't realize you're listening to, as it's supposed to sink into the background and become one with the film, only to enhance the scenes--not overtake them. This score does exactly that. But not only is the music great in each scene, but there are a lot of very quiet moments where there is no music. There are fight sequences with nothing but the sound effects. There are the moments of quiet desperation. And those are sometimes even more powerful that those with the enhancing music.
If I were to find any negatives with the film--besides the fact that Part II won't be coming out for another 6 months--would be a couple things that lack explanation. Of course, I know exactly what's going on due to having read the books. But because the past films have lacked certain things, this one slightly suffers at times. For instance, there is absolutely no explanation to the mirror shard that Harry carries around with him through the movie. The marriage of Lupin and Tonks is a mere offhand comment, and her pregnancy announcement is interrupted. The relationship between Bill and Fleur is barely discussed--nobody mentions how they met or anything like that. It just is. It was little things like that which slightly hurt the film, but it's not as much the fault of this movie as it was the previous ones.
Overall, it was a fantastic film. I personally think it was the best of the bunch thus far, and once matched up with Part II, there's no doubt it'll be the best as one film. The visuals are gorgeous, the music is good, the acting is spectacular, the emotions are high, and everything else about this film is fantastic and on a near perfect pitch. It is unlike any of the other films in the series in every way. And I didn't even mention the animated segment that tells the story of the The Three Brothers, which is equally brilliant. Now that I've been rambling on and on, I'll stop. I could go on, but I won't. If you're a fan, you'll be seeing this film regardless of what I've said. If you don't like the series, you probably won't be going to see the seventh installment, regardless of what I say. But if you're a casual fan, have seen the other films, but are on the fence on this one (though I somehow doubt any of you exist), this review is probably for you. Go see it. It'll be worth it.