Things are definitely darker and scarier in Goblet of Fire, the fourth film in the movie franchise based on J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter books. Goblet, which marks the first Potter film for director Mike Newell – the Four Weddings and a Funeral helmer took the reigns from Potter alums Chris Columbus (who directed the first two films) and Alfonso Cuaron (who directed Prisoner of Azkaban) – also signals a handful of changes in both the film’s characters and moral lessons. Clearly more complex than its three onscreen predecessors, Goblet features dangerous tasks, frightening villains and the emergence of both love and loss within the walls of Hogwarts School.

In Goblet – which is based on one of Rowling’s longer books, and which was, at one time, talked about as being split between two films – Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) reunite for their fourth year at the prestigious Hogwarts. Before the year starts, though, Ron’s dad treats them to nosebleed seats at the Quidditch World Cup. All is going swimmingly until a band of Death Eaters – devoted followers of the seemingly defunct Lord Voldemort – torch the tournament in their quest to wrangle up Harry.

The trio of friends escapes, though, and return to Hogwarts – where, it just so happens, the esteemed Triwizard Tournament will be held. While a young witch or wizard must be at least 17-years-old to enter, Harry is mysteriously chosen by the aptly named Goblet of Fire to join the perilous ranks of three other students from competing schools. While the selection of the 14-year-old Harry is heavily questioned, the Goblet of Fire also represents a binding contract between the competitors. Therefore, Harry must compete.

The meat of the film, then, is centered around the three major tasks related to the Triwizard tournament. While there is a separate storyline relating to the rise and eventual return of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes under heavy facial prosthetics), this thread – although more prevalent in the book – takes a backseat to the Hogwarts festivities. And, even though the film (which moves along quickly at just under two and a half hours) eliminates a lot of back story from Rowling’s Goblet, it is, nonetheless, crisp, concise and ultimately intriguing. There is no lack of character motivation or development, and there are quite a few places in the film which are laced with charm, humor and the utmost sincerity.

Goblet is also filled with striking, magical imagery, with set pieces and styles that seem to draw from all three Potter films. Visual, emotional and story elements combined, Goblet of Fire is, perhaps, the best Harry Potter film yet.

Grade: A-