Watching the latest installment in the

Harry Potter

franchise, one might occasionally feel transported to the post-apocalyptic bummer landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s

The Road

. “These are dark days,” Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy) intones in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’s opening moments, sounding like a CNN or Fox News talking head from our own baleful age.

Our three heroes—Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)—are the now grown-up and world-weary icons of JK Rowling’s imagination, cast out from Hogwarts into a darker adult world. The friends wander a decimated world of gray skies and depopulated trailer parks ruled by a malfeasant dynasty, the ministry of Magic. The Ministry operates with the impunity of the George W Bush administration and the aesthetics of Los Angeles goth rockers, with their long, scraggly hair, spiderweb clothing and preference for black vestments. The council also evokes Nick Cave puppets; of course, the master pulling the strings is Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who is super scary because he is evil but, more importantly, because he. has. no. nose.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I finds the wand-waving threesome engaged in the usual array of mythological quests that are essentially diversions from the key mission: to defeat Lord Voldemort and keep a chin up despite the ever-present misery. (This craven Part I attempt to milk the Potter cash cow will conclude with Part II in summer 2011.) But there are other—more human—entanglements, too, including Ron’s on-again-off-again, jealousy-plagued relationship with Hermione, whom he occasionally suspects of longing for Harry in the vaguely incestuous, sibling-like weirdness of their chummy trio.

The film is a bit of a slog for those not utterly enamored of the Harry Potter mythos. As always, the filmmakers have forged a film as bloated as the chubby books from which they are drawn. Deathly Hallows is laid out with moments of listless book-beholden exposition before the next rousing adventure, of which there are many. There are battles with giant pythons, a fateful return to Harry’s Godric Hollow birthplace, shape-shifting and disguise-adopting, the trio’s exciting infiltration of the Ministry of Magic’s Terry Gilliam-esque headquarters, and various run-ins with baddies who include an increasingly campy Helena Bonham Carter as the witchiest of witches.

The movie has genuinely inspired moments as well, such as a lengthy story-within-a-story animated sequence. In it, three brothers play out a greed and “be careful what you ask for” parable that feels so inspired and captivating one wonders why director David Yates couldn’t sprinkle that cinematic pixie dust throughout.

Harry potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Directed by David Yates

With Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Bill Nighy, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter

Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14

146 min.