My teen years were sometimes tough, but I’ve got nothing on Harry Potter. Now in his sixth year at the Hogwarts School, the young wizard’s days are full of betrayal, teen longing, assassination plots, peer pressure and death.
Daniel Radcliffe returns as the title role, the “chosen one” asked by headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to keep an eye on the eccentric returning professor (Jim Broadbent). Meanwhile, Harry’s best friends Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) battle the deadliest aspect of their young adult lives: hormones.
The biggest problem with this film is the same flaw that ails the other Potter films: it’s overstuffed and too long. There is so much here that it’s easy to overlook the wonderful Quidditch match (always a highlight of these movies) or the eye popping opening set piece.
The PG rating is just right, as the film is as scary and intense as an Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings movie. Each Potter film has gotten progressively darker, which fits the character’s gradual maturity. But the scariest things in this film, by far, are the duel performances by Hero-Fiennes Tiffin (Ralph Fiennes’ nephew) and Frank Dillane as the young Voldemort (the super-villain of the series); their scenes will give you serious chicken skin.
The film this entry reminded me the most of is The Empire Strikes Back which not only has a similar closing image but also a likewise climax that is downbeat, moving and hopeful. Director David Yates has made this one of the most visually rich entries in the series, with atmospheric shots of dreamlike landscapes. The cast is in top form, particularly the core three actors. Yet it’s Gambon’s commanding performance that is the stand out.
Those who are a sequel behind or are new to Potter may be playing catch-up for the first 30-minutes, but the uninitiated will likely be drawn into the story.
I once thought the series peaked with the third entry, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as the special effects in the following sequels have had more impact on me than the stories. I was skeptical that the sixth entry in an eight-year old film series could offer anything new or make me care. Boy, was I wrong.
Despite being overlong, this is funny, emotionally rich and exciting stuff, with action scenes that hold their own next to the other, bigger summer blockbusters.
I’ll admit that I’m a mere Muggle and not a rabid Potter fan, but at the end of the new film, I found myself truly touched and excited for the next installment, which is a first for me. MTW