You know that a franchise is straining when the actor playing Hermione is taller than Harry, the Pope approves of what you’re doing and the kids are more interested in reading about vampires than wizards.

But because we’re nostalgic, a wrap of what critics are saying about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the penultimate book in the Potter series but only the third-last film because they’re turning book seven, Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, into two films. That anyone has the energy anymore is testament to the lure of easy box office cash.

In the Half-Blood Prince, evil Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters are on the rampage while Ron and Hermione’s on-again-off-again affair rages and Harry seeks, with Professor Dumbledore, the secrets to He Who Shall Be Increasingly Named’s quest for immortality.

Reviewers are divided over whether the latest Potter film is just filler — or whether it transcends that status to become something worthy in its own right. But most of the critics agree on one thing: read the books first.

So here you go, nourish your inner child — well more like your inner gawky, slow-blossoming teen — with Crikey’s gratuitous look at Harry Potter:

Surprisingly good. Harry Potter feels so…2008 … Do we give a damn? I didn’t, until the film started—and it was splendid! No, it’s not a larky kid-pic. We’re firmly in the realm of English horror, as one set of sallow Brits battles another even sallower. Our villains are racist murderers; our heroes embody tolerance, discipline, and a British public-school education, heavy on Latin—which, when chanted properly behind a wand, can mean the difference between goosing and defenestrating someone. — David Edelstein, New York Magazine

A film full of filler. Unfortunately, there is far too little in the way of character development or big-screen spectacle to make this $200 million epic feel like anything other than an empty, cynical, two-and-half hour delaying tactic for the inevitable smackdown between Harry and Voldemort. Phoenix spent two solid hours building tension about the big battle that was about to begin. And now what do we get? A coffee break, a 153-minute Waffle-A-Thon apparently designed to test the faith of Potter fans and the patience of everybody else. — Jim Schembri, The Age

The best Potter outing so far. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a worthy and well paced seis-quel. At times moody, at times jovial, it’s a balanced affair that routinely delivers entertainment in the form of flawless visuals and peppy dialogue. I really dug it. I think it’s the best of the series, fairly easily, and a testament to why occasionally throwing a massive budget at an endeavor of this scope can be considered a reasonable decision. — Laremy Legal, Seattle PI

See how they grow. …assessing the romantic entanglements is not nearly as much fun as simply beholding the big physical changes in the young actors, whose onscreen maturation will have been documented across the span of a decade when all is said and done. The biggest change since “Phoenix” two years ago has been registered by Tom Felton, who plays Malfoy; he’s now a tall stringbean in the Jimmy Stewart mold, with a face that’s come to resemble that of Jonathan Pryce, and he towers over Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry, who looks to be the shortest person in the cast (not true when Imelda Staunton was around). — Todd McCarthy, Variety

A dark and stormy night. The moodiness of the Potter aesthetic gives it a visual panache traditionally considered too stylised for kids movies, and this occasionally leads to some bewitching flourishes, notably the sumptuously stylised framing of the Alfonso Cuarón directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But in the latest adaptation of Rowling’s monolithic book series this visual moodiness damn near takes over everything else.  — Luke Buckmaster, Cinetology (CrikeyBlog)

Read the book first. This film series always has been marked by a tension in its filmmakers over how to address an audience larger than novelist J.K. Rowling’s readership. The early films feared to leave out a semicolon. The middle two — directed by Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell, respectively — discarded chucks of bloat and sought out the emotions. The most recent two, under Yates, have boiled and distilled with abandon, but the nonreader often is left puzzled. — Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

Back on top. Overall, Half-Blood Prince marks a thorough return to form for the Potter franchise after a few middling efforts. Several important developments in the story require a strong working knowledge of the Potter universe. — Leigh Paatsch, Herald Sun

In fine form. Harry is better than ever, a triumph of visual wonder and emotional storytelling. Only Muggles, who wouldn’t know Slytherin from Gryffandor, will dismiss it as kid stuff for the multitudes who drank the Kool Aid of J.K. Rowling’s seven books.  — Rolling Stone

Something is missing. When Slughorn, the fear almost visibly leaking from his body, shares the secret of immortality with Voldemort, you feel, much as when Ralph Fiennes raged through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, that something vital is at stake. If that sense of exigency rarely materializes in The Half-Blood Prince, it’s partly because the series finale is both too close and too far away and partly because Mr. Radcliffe and his co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, as Harry’s friends Hermione and Ron, have grown up into three prettily manicured bores. — Manohla Dargis, New York Times

Director David Yates better the second time round. Half-Blood Prince is in every way superior to its immediate predecessor, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which, like this film, was directed by David Yates. Maybe he just felt more comfortable this time around dealing with kids whose emotions were rampagingly human. He’s good with the other stuff, too – the sinister elements without which “Harry Potter” wouldn’t be “Harry Potter.” But even here, the malevolence is more human-scaled. Hogwarts seems more solidly medieval, less like a fairy-tale aerie. — Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor