Steve Kloves and David Yates certainly had their work cut out for them when they signed on to write and direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth part in J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular series about a boy wizard with a destiny. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is the one person in the magical world who can defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. With each book representing a year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling’s books follow Harry and his best friends, Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) through typical adolescent misadventures and the kind of crazy stuff that tends to transpire when you happen to be the darkest wizard of all time’s least favorite person. Half-Blood Prince, the series’ penultimate installment, is centered around 16-year-old Harry on a quest to learn as much as possible about Voldemort’s past and his Horcruxes: inanimate objects which contain fragments of his soul and must be destroyed before they face off.

Yates and Kloves faced the challenge of keeping things interesting in spite of Harry’s monolithic popularity. Rowling kept readers turning the pages with lots of twists and turns, but Yates and Kloves do not have that luxury since everyone in the universe learned how this movie would end about four years ago. There was also the obstacle of turning a 650-page book — one with a lot more flashbacks and exposition than some of the others, making way for the grand finale — into something that can be digested in a single sitting.

The first two Harry Potter movies were very close to the books, but as Rowling got deeper into the series the books got longer and as a result the movies understandably became less faithful to their literary counterparts. In the interest of making sure Half-Blood Prince does not rival Roots in terms of length, a lot of stuff was predictably nixed from the on-screen adaptation. Entire plotlines and characters were cut out, while other characters — notably Ron’s make out buddy Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), whose sheer ridiculousness adds some comic relief, and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), the most fanatical of Voldemort’s followers and also the one most likely to be mistaken for a homeless crackhead in the Muggle world, are significantly beefed up. There are also a few surprise scenes. That fiery confrontation in the cave toward the end was greatly exaggerated, while the fiery confrontation at the Weasley house was entirely made up. But those are the creative liberties that worked. That extra footage provided some cool visual effects while bringing a little bit of freshness to something that by its very definition is anti-climatic in nature.

For the most part Kloves did a good job trimming the story. The teen romance seems a bit excessive, but it’s important because it represents the series’ recurring dichotomy. The Harry Potter series isn’t just an epic tale about wizards; the magical world is the backdrop in which the titular character comes of age and becomes a man over the course of the series. The Harry-Dean-Ginny love triangle and the Cormac-Hermione-Ron-Lavender love… rhombus(?) are melodramatic and silly, but they balance out the darkness of the plot nicely. The one problem with the script is the way the Horcruxes, which are crucial to the story given what’s to come, were glossed over. There should have been a bit more explanation there — at 153 minutes, the movie was already quite long; another five minutes wouldn’t hurt anyone.

But what has always been the best part of the Harry Potter movies is the way the actors bring the characters to life. While Michael Gambon isn’t as warm as Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore should be, and new Potions teacher Horace Slughorn is more slimy and power-hungry than Jim Broadbent’s callow, starstruck portrayal, the three young principles have such great chemistry we’d be shocked to discover they’re not the best of friends in real life. Alan Rickman is of course still perfect as ambiguously evil Severus Snape, who has spent the entire series written as a potential bad guy who keeps you guessing. Though over-the-top, Bonham Carter is mesmerizing as the demented, cackling Bellatrix. And Tom Felton is particularly noteworthy as Draco Malfoy, Harry’s arch-nemesis from the day they started school together almost a decade ago. Underneath his elitist swagger Draco is kind of a pansy and you can see the bravado erode from Felton’s face throughout the film, which is a neat little touch.

All things considered, Yates and Kloves did an admirable job. Half-Blood Prince has comedy, action, great special effects and is ultimately fun to watch which given the movie’s length is quite the compliment. Harry Potter’s latest on-screen adventure isn’t the best movie in the world, but it’s certainly head and shoulders above the last two; all in all Half-Blood Prince is not half bad. It’s not as good as the book, of course, but then again did anyone honestly expect it to be?

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Bonnie Wright, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Jessie Cave

Director: David Yates

Runtime: 153 minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Rating: PG