When I first learned that Warner Bros. was going to split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two movies, there was much kicking and screaming on my part. I was not alone. There were plenty of fans and non-fans alike who felt it was a poor decision, and one that further painted Warner Bros. as greedy studio execs who were trying to milk the Harry Potter franchise dry.

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 last night and I am happy to report that my attitude has changed. My faith in David Yates still waning, I went into the movie with slightly lowered expectations. But when the credits rolled, I walked out of the theater with only positive thoughts. Reflecting on the finished product, I now understand not only why it was necessary to make two films, but also why the filmmakers felt it was important. They wanted to give us a proper farewell.

Right away, the decaying Warner Bros. logo sets the tone: this will not be a happy movie. Dumbledore is dead, Voldemort and his Death Eaters have infiltrated the Ministry of Magic, and the wizarding world is at war. Times are so dark that even the Muggles are fleeing their homes–nowhere is safe. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have said their goodbyes to Hogwarts (the warm, familiar school setting is noticeably absent) and set out on a journey to destroy the horcruxes: objects containing the seven pieces of Voldemort’s soul that are the keys to his destruction.

The danger is eminent from beginning to end; this is the darkest Harry Potter film yet (which should be no surprise to those who have read the books). There are some genuinely frightening scenes and, of course, more deaths of beloved characters. Yet all this doom and gloom is punctuated by surprising little moments of joy. I found myself cheering at grand entrances, for example, when [spoiler] Dobby bursts into Number 12 Grimauld Place wrapped around Mundungus Fletcher;[/spoiler] and at other times laughing out loud like when [spoiler]Harry tests out the wand that Ron gives him, which unexpectedly shoots out a pillar of flame[/spoiler] (it’s much funnier than it sounds, trust me).

There were also many moments in the film that felt like a love letter to fans. There was an especially lovely scene where [spoiler]Harry coaxes a melancholy Hermione into dancing with him; it was a touching and fitting tribute to their seven years of almost sibling-like friendship.[/spoiler] We were also treated to an early scene where [spoiler]Hermione performs a memory charm on her parents, knowing she will have to leave them behind. In the books, we never get to see Hermione’s “Muggle” life, so I really enjoyed this little bit.[/spoiler]

I sometimes take issue when this type of fluff is injected into books based on movies, especially if they replace scenes that are more critical to the plot, but I could not find much to complain about here. Even the book’s most tender moments are handled with great care [spoiler]like the death of Dobby (which managed to make me cry)[/spoiler]. There are, of course, some differences between book and film that improve the flow and pacing of events, but overall I felt Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was a very faithful adaptation that captured the same feelings of isolation and impending doom.

There were some lowlights for me, however. Let’s start with Xenophilus Lovegood–I didn’t care for Rhys Ifans’ performance. I realize the character is supposed to be eccentric, but I felt really distracted by his screen-time. Also, I love Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, but with every Harry Potter movie she gets more and more ridiculous. Whenever she’s on screen I feel like I’m watching the Helena Bonham Carter show–I wish she’d tone it down a bit. Then there was Alexander Desplat’s score, which was not spectacular, but it gets the job done. Those are my only complaints, and yes, they’re nitpicky.

Visually, Deathly Hallows is a marvel of filmmaking, from the cinematography to the special effects. The spells, apparitions, flying and battle scenes all looked amazing. As much as I missed Hogwarts, this film makes up for its absence with breathtaking natural backdrops. Seeing it on an IMAX screen was truly a memorable experience.

But as spectacular as part one of Deathly Hallows is, it’s almost a bit unfair to review it as a complete film. Even at a whopping two hours and twenty six minutes long, I guarantee you will be disappointed when it ends; feeling rather like someone pulled the rug out from under you. And like all good two-part movies, this one ends on a major down note. For those wondering what part of the book serves as the ending to this film, I will only say this: they made a very good decision.

There were so many things to love about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I am confident it will go down as one of the best films in the Potter movie franchise, if not the best. The only bad thing about this movie…is that it ends.