08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

It's hard to imagine anyone who isn't already engrossed in the Harry Potter series of films deciding, "Oh, gee, I think I'll see the new one -- even though I haven't seen any of the others."

Either you're on the Potter bus or you're not. Either you've been captivated by J.K. Rowling's series about a young wizard forced to deal with his destiny or you haven't. Some people are fantasy-resistant -- even if they have kids who are in Rowling's thrall.

As far as the new film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it's far too late for a newcomer to wander into the story for the first time and make any sense of it. Which says nothing about the film's commercial prospects: After all, this is #6 in the series -- and the previous five haven't done too badly.

Each of the films, in fact, has been better than the last. For those of us who've been with this engrossing fantasy series from the start, Half-Blood Prince is thrilling storytelling, a sumptuous, engrossing tale based on what may be the series' most compelling installment.

Half-Blood Prince is the sixth book, but it really concludes the overall story's second act -- Act Three being the massive seventh book, so sprawling that it will require two films to tell it in 2010. As such, Half-Blood Prince is packed with revelations, even as it leaves the audience hanging at the end -- a la The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers.

Indeed, this film -- and the book on which it was based - jettison comfortably familiar signposts from the past. There is no comic opening interlude with Harry's Muggle family, the dreaded Dursleys. There's barely a sighting of Voldemort, the dark lord who has been the increasingly powerful villain throughout the series. In fact, there's no preamble at all -- just Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his mentor, Prof. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), meeting in a London subway, then jumping into the story straightaway.

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