After a freewheeling third installment by director Alfonso Cuarn, the Harry Potter franchise returns to stiff solemnity for its latest outing—not that that's necessarily a bad thing. J.K. Rowling's fourth novel, released in 2000, seriously upped the ante, not to mention the page count, in terms of dark developments for her intrepid young wizard. In that tome, you had Harry's participation in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament, awkward adolescent dating scenes, a depressing last-act death and the return of the evil Lord Voldemort. That's a lot for any book to handle, especially one aimed at youngsters.
Goblet of Fire, the movie, includes all of this and only rarely seems out of breath. But a frostiness creeps in as well, both in terms of performance (Daniel Radcliffe has become slightly inert with age) and special effects, many of which feel canned. Vivid supporting turns save the day, especially Brendan Gleeson's jug-swigging Master of Dark Arts, letting his wildly lolling false eye dictate the brassiness of his performance. Unavoidably, some of the lines take on a post-9/11 chill, with Michael Gambon's headmaster sounding like a certain you-know-who: "Soon we must all face the choice between what is right...and what is easy." But the seriousness serves Rowling's dramatic arc well; anyone hoping for a romantic bloom between sassy Hermione (Watson) and Harry will leave frustrated. This chapter's got trouble, not love, in mind. (Opens Fri.)