In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the beloved boy wizard — now fully immersed in puberty — pines for girls, endures the ridicule of classmates and is subjected to horrific displays of self-mutilation.
Essentially, it’s my freshman year in high school all over again, minus the complexion issues. (Oh, what I would have given for some of Daniel Radcliffe’s digital airbrushing.)
More to the point, "Goblet" serves notice that Harry Potter is a child — and a child’s fantasy — no more. This is far and away the most morbid, intense and implicitly sexual of the four movies adapted from J.K. Rowling’s absurdly popular book series, and the first to get slapped with a PG-13 rating. It’s not exactly "Harry After Dark," but hey — there are three or four more episodes to go.
Despite some lurchy storytelling, "Goblet" is also my favorite Potter film. Certainly, it lacks the autumnal refinement of Alfonso Cuaron’s "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004) — previously the best of the series — but it compensates in other ways: Namely, with dazzling action scenes, well-tuned suspense and a certain hormonal delirium that makes for a nice change of pace. "Goblet" also features the unveiling of Mr. Unmentionable himself, Lord Voldemort, played with such delectable villainy by Ralph Fiennes ("The English Patient") that one almost forgets how evasive and unsatisfying the first three movies tended to be.
Director Mike Newell — claimant of arguably Hollywood’s most diverse résumé ("Donnie Brasco," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") — takes over for Cuaron, bringing with him a newfound knack for spectacle. The story begins with Harry (Radcliffe) and best pal Ron (Rupert Grint) making pilgrimage to the 422nd Quidditch World Cup, an oceanside jamboree of mind-boggling proportions, with miles of tents and a subterranean arena filled with a million frothing fans. Visually speaking, it puts previous Potter efforts to shame.
In a sequence dripping with apocalyptic dread, the World Cup is crashed by Voldemort’s horse-riding "death eaters," sending Harry packing to Hogwarts with his usual sense of foreboding. Due to a mysterious clerical mix-up, Harry is volunteered for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a yearlong Olympiad of heroic deeds and dangerous feats normally reserved for upperclassmen.
Tormented by dreams of Voldemort and his minions, Harry suspects he’s being played for a patsy, as does the school’s faculty, including wizened headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody, played by a hilariously bedraggled Brendan Gleeson ("Troy").
While the Tri-Wizard Tournament rages on, often in spectacular fashion — Harry’s rooftop tête-à-tête with an snorting, limo-sized dragon is a thing to behold — the raw beginnings of romance begin to blossom. We see that Ron takes Hermione (Emma Watson) for granted. (He won’t ask her to the big dance, but is irritated when she goes with a visiting Bulgarian quidditch star from the super-butch Durmstrang Academy.) Harry wants "something sweet" from cute classmate Cho Chang (Katie Leung) but is stymied by Hogwarts golden boy Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson).
Meanwhile, the lads of Hogwarts cast covetous eyes on the pert lovelies of Beauxbatons Academy, a French finishing school for the magically inclined.
Only those who wolfed down Rowling’s 700-plus-page tome will not be occasionally baffled by "Goblet." According to a viewing companion in the know, Newell and perennial Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves have cut out all nonessential subplots, but nonreaders will still have no idea why, for instance, Harry finds four Hogwarts students tethered to the bottom of a lake during one of the Tri-Wizard competitions.
Even so, "Goblet" is less encumbered by cryptic silliness than previous Potter movies. Instead of fighting a giant turtle or one of Voldemort’s numerous surrogates, Harry finally confronts the source of his disquiet. Yes, the violence is relatively severe, but it also serves to challenge the characters emotionally. For once, Harry and his flock have something resembling a real dialogue, and for once, the saga moves thrillingly toward resolution.