My, how they've grown! We've followed Harry Potter and the namesake movie series through an adorable childhood and an awkward adolescence. With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the series stands on the cusp of a maturity that's quite refreshing for a summer blockbuster.

My, how they've grown! We've followed Harry Potter and the namesake movie series through an adorable childhood and an awkward adolescence. With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the series stands on the cusp of a maturity that's quite refreshing for a summer blockbuster.

With a 652-page book as its source and little time to waste, Prince dives into the gathering black clouds with nary a recap. As a final showdown with the evil Voldemort looms, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) enlists Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) to extract vital info from a returning professor (Jim Broadbent). Meanwhile, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) find themselves on the front lines of the hormonal war of young wizard love.

Solid and smart, Prince ranks among the best of the Potter films. It's visually striking without being showy, and it handles the pangs and pains of young love as well as many movies dedicated to the premise completely. Emotionally charged drama and sharp-witted humor are both deftly delivered in a film that rarely panders to the broader audience.

It's amazing what this young cast - many of whom were cast as preteens - has become. The youngsters hold their own with the grown-ups, including an outstanding Broadbent, one of the few notable Brit actors who hadn't yet graced the series.

Prince wisely avoids distractions, which sometimes means cuts that are painful to fans of the books. The film's 2 1/2-hour running time is still intimidating, but it's downright breezy compared to the slogging pace of Transformers (despite having about 400 percent fewer explosions). It's a great warm-up for the upcoming two-part finale.