LONDON (Reuters) - It may have had one of the wettest premieres in memory this week, but that did little to dampen critics' enthusiasm for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", the sixth film in the blockbuster franchise.
British broadsheet newspapers gave Half-Blood Prince solid ratings of three stars out of five, saying that the movie lived up to its predecessors and hit most of the right notes for millions of Potter fans around the world.
The Sun tabloid went further, calling it "the most confident, stylish, individual, warm-hearted and witty Harry Potter yet.
"Instead of 'going darker' again (yawn), Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) go lighter. At times like a High School rom-com."
The film, which hits cinemas on July 15, is based on the novel of the same name by British author J.K. Rowling.
The book series ends with the seventh volume, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", but Hollywood studio Warner Bros has decided to make two films out of the final installment.
Given that the franchise has earned $4.5 billion global ticket sales so far, reviewers are hardly surprised.
"So desperate are the producers not to compromise their revenue stream that the final book, the Deathly Hallows, will be divided into two parts," wrote Andrew Pulver in the Guardian in a generally positive review of Half-Blood Prince.
Sarah Crompton of the Daily Telegraph said: "For fans both of the films and the books, this is an elegant addition to the canon -- even if it is only there to set the scene for the final conflict in the next two movies."
In Half-Blood Prince, Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of the Hogwarts school of magic, grooms Potter for the inevitable final showdown with evil Lord Voldemort, whose presence is constantly felt in color-drained, dark-clouded canvases.
But while menace looms, culminating in the death of a central character, romance blossoms between teenaged wizards, providing for more comedy than some viewers had expected.
Harry has feelings for Ginny, while Ron is caught in a love triangle with the attentions of the over-affectionate Lavender Brown throwing Hermione into a jealous rage.
Alistair Harkness of the Scotsman said in his three-star review that the middle section, concentrating on the characters' love interests, lagged.
"The weightier, emotional stuff the characters are going through often jars with the more comedic elements built around their exploding hormones," he added.
And Wendy Ide of the Times wrote that the romantic awakening, which several reviewers argued was far more innocent that what really goes on between 16- or 17-year-olds, may be more appealing to adult viewers than to children.
"A couple of 12-year-olds at the screening I attended squirmed with agonized embarrassment at the slightest hint of a snog," she wrote.
Half-Blood Prince was directed by David Yates, who also made the fifth film and is in charge of Deathly Hallows Part One and Two. The first of the pair is due for release in November 2010 and the second in the summer of 2011.
Editing by Paul Casciato