An epic finale: As the trio returns to Hogwarts only a quarter of the way in the film already has a climactic feel, sustained by a series of cinematically stunning action sequences, with Desplat’s mournful strings adding a tragic beauty to the chaotic proceedings. More notable though, is the series’ emotional apex–the perfectly edited Snape-memory sequence and its devastating aftermath. It raises a few plot-questions but the way it ties the whole saga together is unquestionably affecting.
A finally tempered pace produces superb results: The middle act with the main three in the forest is by far the most mature of the series, with its slow-burning character tension and nuanced feelings of frustration and hopelessness in a gorgeous natural setting. Aside from even more fresh material (see the handheld-shot chase scene, fantastic animation sequence) is great action (see the Ministry break-in) and a more-compelling-than-ever wizarding world, with its chilling new Nazi-like regime.
A pleasing palette of murky greens and browns brings a fittingly mature visual tone to a film with more delicious dashes of darkness than its predecessors. Unfortunately, the plot never allows them to develop sufficiently (Voldemort’s backstory is severely limited, the Half-Blood Prince reveal is only one line) thanks in part to a burst of (admittedly entertaining) burgeoning hormone side-stories. The climax is devastating though; it’s too bad little else was allowed to live up to its potential.
Harry’s intriguing inner demons that become a refreshing character-focused theme here instigate Radcliffe’s first standout turn of the series (“I just feel so angry, all the time”), as he leads the cast through a juicy rebellion-tinged plot (Staunton shines as the distasteful antagonist) marked by a couple well-crafted montages. On the down side, the final act is a bit lame (the spell-casting action still feels awkward), its climactic duel aside, and the prophecy bit is puzzlingly breezed over.
Harry finds himself mysteriously selected as an under-aged competitor in a dangerous tournament between three schools of magic. (IMDb)
The script awkwardly attempts to juggle its new additions (foreign wizards, a school dance) with an already jam-packed line-up and drops the ball, hastily wrapping up or even discarding plot points (the final twist takes seconds and Crouch Sr. is left in the forest), whilst its secret antagonist is left mostly unexplained (Tennant’s overacting doesn’t make up for it). There are still lots of enjoyable bits here (see the thankfully well-paced graveyard scene) but the whole is a tad too messy.
It’s Harry’s third year at Hogwarts; not only does he have a new “Defense Against the Dark Arts” teacher, but there is also trouble brewing. Convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped the Wizards’ Prison and is coming after Harry. (IMDb)
The script still has some of the same skimmed-over feel as its predecessors (the terrific time-travel final act aside), but its direction is decidedly better: The cinematography is pleasingly mature with a buttery tone and beautiful wide-angle nature shots; the editing is smooth, featuring charming Whomping Willow scene transitions; and the dialogue flows more naturally (keep an ear out for the background conversations). Also notable is the fresh vigor with which Gambon portrays his Dumbledore.
Harry ignores warnings not to return to Hogwarts, only to find the school plagued by a series of mysterious attacks and a strange voice haunting him. (IMDb)
The plot is much meatier this time around: Introduced immediately, it’s a tantalizing monster mystery with connections to the past that grows darker with each passing scene, although it could have been explained with a little more subtlety. New bits of magic and characters bring more humour (see the Polyjuice Potion escapade and the outrageous Lockhart) but also more awkwardness (nearly every spell seems to do the same thing). Another unearned too-happy ending caps it off on cheesy note.
Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (IMDb)
Half of the run-time just introduces the world of witches and wizards, stunting the plot and giving the film a bit of a disjointed feel, but at least it’s done well, with great sets, compelling camerawork, and a wonderfully magical and mysterious soundtrack. The three kids’ conversations are a little stiff, but they ultimately bring the charm with some great one-liners (“…or worse, expelled!”) and facial expressions (Grint excels here). A fun fantasy flick with an admittedly mawkish ending.