Associated Press
Fear and loathing, doom and gloom permeate nearly every minute of the beginning of the end of the behemoth boy-wizard series.

The seventh film in the franchise, directed once again by David Yates (who previously helmed parts five and six, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”), begins with nearly suffocating tension, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself face-to-face with his destiny: being the target of the evil Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) deadly wrath.

Friends and allies will have to band together to protect him; some of them won’t make it out alive.

Finally, the weight of Harry’s past and the frightening unknown of his future, as detailed so thoroughly and vividly in J.K. Rowling’s beloved books, are about to collide.

Yates’ film is gorgeously bleak, with sprawling, end-of-the-Earth shots of foreboding mountains and lonely beaches from Oscar-nominated cinematographer Eduardo Serra (“Girl With a Pearl Earring”) that reflect the characters’ moods.

The films have grown darker in tone and theme, and given this heightened emotional challenge, the three young stars (Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) once again rise to it.

Having spent half their lives in these characters, their interactions with one another seem more comfortable and believable than ever.

But because “Part 1” sets up the final showdown in “Part 2” — which Yates also directed, due in July — there’s lots of exposition in Steve Kloves’ script, lots of characters and plot lines introduced and reintroduced from films past.

While it’s thrilling off the top, it repeatedly sags in the middle before ultimately picking up at the cliffhanger climax.

PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images. 143 minutes. Three stars out of four. TAS