At last, a mostly unabridged Harry Potter adaptation that's not by Chris Columbus! This film and its sequel: 146 + 130 = 276 minutes. That's the equivalent of six hour-long TV episodes, after adverts, but movie-quality.
My worry had been that it would feel dragged-out and bloated. It doesn't. Well, admittedly our three heroes do spend a lot of time on the run in the woods, living in tents and not knowing where to start looking for the next Horcrux, but that's part of the story. That's meant to be nerve-grating and faintly unpleasant, because it is. They snap at each other. They find a magical item that gives them a personality like Voldemort, which is as much fun for all three as you'd imagine. (They take turns wearing it, because it's too dangerous to leave unguarded.) At one point Harry has to strip almost naked, smash the ice on a river and jump in. Rather you than me, mate. It must have snowed a lot in Britain that winter, although admittedly we're also talking about Scotland and mountains.
It's a long film, as expected in this series, but it carries its running time lightly. It has a sense of humour. Emma Watson gets a laugh or two when Hermione's annoyed with Ron, Daniel Radcliffe is funny in the Seven Harrys scene and there are witty touches like everyone taking a drink chez Lovegood. This is a movie of brutal survivalism in which the fascists are taking over and anyone could be killed at any time, but that doesn't mean we can't also enjoy its dark flashes of wit.
The action gets pretty intense. Harry, Hermione and Ron's fight in a late-night cafe with two of Voldemort's thugs is startlingly violent, wands or no wands. Just getting Harry out of a house at the start of a film is a military operation involving more than a dozen magic-users, an ambush by Death Eaters and the death of a major character. That's at the beginning. Important characters die offscreen. Voldemort's dinner party includes having a woman tortured to death.
And then there's Bellatrix Lestrange, i.e. the scariest thing in this fictional universe. Between her and Dolores Umbridge, this film belongs to its female villains. Voldemort's no Care Bear, obviously, but there's a special horror in Imelda Staunton's tittering, pink-clad fascist show trial or Helena Bonham Carter's barely restrained savagery.
There are quite a few Nazi parallels in this film, e.g. what Bellatrix does to Hermione's arm or Harry having to dress up in what's practically an SS uniform when breaking into the Ministry of Magic. It looks good on him.
What's not quite right? It's a solid, well-made film and I wouldn't go so far as to say that there's anything that doesn't work, but there are imperfections. Ginny is thrown away, for a start. The Harry-Ginny relationship gets even less screen time than you'd expect from watching Bonne Wright in The Half-Blood Prince, i.e. sub-minimal. She says "zip me up" in a scene with family-friendly semi-nudity and that's it. As far as this film's concerned, she barely exists. Meanwhile the "Dobby is a free elf" line is undeniably stirring, but we're missing all the set-up that was hacked from the preceding films in Hermione's Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. As far as the films are concerned, it's a reference to one scene in the second Columbus film.
Oh, and more trivially, Radcliffe's put on a little weight in the scenes where he's supposedly living in a tent in the woods. Look under his chin. You couldn't call it a plot hole because of our heroes' magic powers, but it goes slightly against the tone of the scenes.
The acting, though, is nearly flawless. The no-longer-juvenile leads are stonking. Daniel Radcliffe can look brooding and dark like nobody's business. You'd cast him in Equus too and not just as a famous name to put bums on seats. Emma Watson is of course immaculate, e.g. her "obliviate" when brain-wiping her parents, but to my astonishment Rupert Grint actually managed to outdo her. This is a key Ron film, despite not getting as much screen time as the others, and I was astonished by how he transforms himself. Obviously the make-up department played a huge part in this, but Moody Teenage Ron looks like the kind of loutish thug you'd emigrate to avoid and it's a miracle when he turns out to have the old lovable goofball still inside him after all.
I'd also recommend watching Tom Felton. He hardly gets anything to say or do, but I still admire how much he's putting into his portrayal of a weasel who might be belatedly discovering a conscience. It's fascinating to see him so obviously terrified and regretting everything he's done even as he goes on doing it, but unable to see any road for himself except forward.
The plot picks up threads from earlier films, obviously, but it's driven mostly by its doom-laden tone and you won't feel left out if you've forgotten a few references. Much of the action takes place off-screen (e.g. death), with the on-screen scenes being more about mood and character.
I love the animated (and horrible) fairy tale, by the way. They've found a unique visual style, mostly intricately gorgeous silhouettes with a suggestion of puppetry and a strong influence from Eastern Europe. (Lotte Reiniger has been cited as an influence, as have Asian shadow-plays.) They're moving illustrations and it's fascinating to watch how the performances are conveyed in this tale-within-a-tale. Even if you don't can't stand the idea of watching an entire Harry Potter film, it's worth seeking out this segment of it.
In short, it's another excellent Harry Potter film. It's satisfying in itself instead of just feeling like a Part One and I didn't think it was encumbered by its running time at all. It's ditched most of the series's trappings (no Hogwarts, no teachers, etc.) and it feels at once brutally murderous and faithful to what's gone before. The films aren't the books, no, but this is as close as they got and I love both versions.