The Pitter Potter of Magical Feats

Sexual attraction has entered the Harry Potter universe. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is now 14, and he's one of four contestants competing in the dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament. The first event requires him to capture a golden egg that's guarded by a ferocious Hungarian flying dragon. Terrifying as this is, it pales in comparison with having to ask the beguiling Cho Chang (Katie Leung) to Hogwarts's Yule Ball. Now, that takes courage.

The hormonal confusions of adolescence threaten the camaraderie of Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). But if the teenagers are experiencing growing pains, the movie series has come into its own. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" may not reach the lyrical heights of Alfonso Cuaron's stylish "Prisoner of Azkaban," but this fourth installment, directed by Mike Newell, has a stronger tale to tell. And the storytelling is so assured that its 144-minute running time feels half that--unlike the first two movies, which felt twice as long as they actually were.

Newell ("Donnie Brasco," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") and screenwriter Steve Kloves have made the funniest, the scariest and possibly the most human of the series. It also offers our first up-close-and-personal glimpse of Harry's great antagonist, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). There will be debate among Potter fans whether Fiennes's archvillain matches their direst expectations. At worst, his scene is a near miss.

The uncontestable triumph of "Goblet of Fire," however, is Brendan Gleeson's Alastor (Mad-Eye) Moody, the grizzled new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. With a face like cracked pottery and a manner both menacing and mentoring, he becomes Harry's protector as he faces life-threatening tests. Gleeson, one of the screen's greatest character actors, steals every scene he's in--no small feat when you're up against Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman.

Kloves has streamlined J. K. Rowling's 700-plus-page opus into cinematic fighting form. And the special effects, which threatened to overwhelm the first two movies, are seamlessly integrated. The question now becomes: can the next two episodes be finished before Radcliffe, Grint and Watson literally outgrow their roles?