"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is probably the most engaging Potter film of the series thus far. Director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has written all the Potter films) know their primary responsibility: to create three-ring spectacles like the whiz-bang, airborne game of Quidditch, or Harry's mighty tussles with otherworldly creatures. But they also allow time for the characters to breathe. In the case of our central character, Hogwarts student Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), that means examining the social clumsiness of a 14-year-old who's possibly more intimidated by girls than by dragons. Wizardry is hard. And there are no spells to help negotiate the terrors of adolescence.

If only he had time to figure this stuff out. There's hardly a peaceful moment at Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry that Harry attends with best friend Hermione (Emma Watson) and his even bester mate, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). For instance, he just got drafted, mysteriously, into the international Triwizard Tournament, a prestigious competition normally restricted to 17-year-olds.

As if that wasn't enough, a large skull-and-snake apparition has appeared in the skies, a signal that the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned.

Fans of the Potter movies will be pleased to see the return of such regulars as headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and this reviewer's personal favorite, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), a potion-mixing professor who slinks through dark corridors in funereal black and seems to lick his words before letting them loose. Fans should be even more pleased with Brendan Gleeson, who deserves a golden shoplifting award for the way he plunders scenes as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, who appoints himself to help Harry defeat Voldemort. A lesser actor would have thrown himself into the role with pantomimic overkill, but Gleeson makes Mad-Eye subtly funny.

Readers of the J.K. Rowling novels -- on which "Goblet of Fire" and the three previous Potter films are based -- may be disappointed that many details from the book have been altered or omitted. As long as those readers appreciate large-scale action and smaller-scale interaction, they'll be happy.

-- Desson Thomson