Let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of the novels. I’ll admit I read the first book on a girl’s recommendation, but I never liked it much; it always felt like schoolkid lit meets P.G. Wodehouse meets vague slapdash fantasy. I’m sure the books have improved with length, as another friend is a fangirl who goes on and on about how great Snape is and how dark the story has gotten. Sadly, the movies mostly feel like Cliff’s Notes to me.
Among film fans the entry directed by Alfonso Cuaron- The Prisoner of Azkaban– is usually regarded as the best. Chris Columbus did a decent job with the early ones. The films have their own look and feel, but there’s just something missing in these later ones. I’m actually glad that the plot involving Voldemort is actually moving, but you don’t even see him in this one. The wizard fight at the end of Order of the Phoenix was fun to watch, and there’s something nearly as good here but it’s badly realized and all too short. It involves seeking a relic that might destroy the ol’ Dark Lord, and Harry and Dumbledore end up in a lake full of scrawny zombies in a crystal cavern. That was somewhat compelling.
I also like how Daniel Radcliffe is making Harry his own. He’s cheekier. After all, the actor’s played the lead in Equus and run around with his wand exposed, the character has come of age and even gets to smooch in this one, he ought to have a bit of the high school rebel in him. But only barely. The story seems to linger way too long on a Quidditch match, which hasn’t been exciting since it was first introduced, and high school romance between Ron, Hermione and respective beaus. Some of this is amusing; in potion class the British actor cum professor du jour is Jim Broadbent, as Slughorn, who shows off a love potion. Wonder if that’ll show up later?
The characters work well but the story is a mess, especially for those of us who haven’t slogged through the tomes. Seems like Draco Malfoy is in league with ol’ No-Nose and his minions like the annoying as hell Helena Bonham Carter, whose characterization of Bellatrix makes me want to make pies out of my own kidneys. Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman once again hold things together, with Maggie Smith barely getting screen time but excellent when she does. We get flashbacks to Li’l Voldy, aka Tom Riddle, played by Ralph Fiennes’ nephew; the kid’s got talent and we’ll be seeing him again I’m sure. But we learn very little. He seems like a bad seed, about as obvious to become history’s greatest monster as Anakin in Attack of the Clones.
We also see a trio of flying black smokes from “Lost” who like to fuck shit up. I think they’re senior Death Eaters. They destroy the Millenium bridge, but as usual the muggle world is completely ignored, which was cute in the beginning, but makes you wonder if Hogwarts has neuralyzer spells to make people forget that three black smoke clouds just murdered hundreds of people. The film’s only interested in it for the special effects. I don’t think anyone even mentions it later. “Hmm, notice that the Death Eaters are waging war on the muggles? Maybe we ought to do sumfin’. Nah, let’s have some Butter Beer.”
I’ve heard wondrous things about the character of Severus Snape from fans, and I love me some Alan Rickman, so I was glad that he gets to do more than appear in drag as a gag in this one. He’s always been the most interesting character, and he consistently gets shafted. Here he’s implemental in the series’ biggest surprise, which director David Yates handles as clumsily as I can imagine. I mean, this is big, I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s face it. In The Empire Strikes Back, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times, the “I am your father” line is obviously important. The equivalent of Snape telling Harry that he boned his mom is given here, but it doesn’t feel like much. I knew what was coming, and it just fell flat. There was a huge tragedy and everyone seems sort of sad, but nothing like you’d expect.
I can’t say I have much hope for the rest of the series, which Yates is dubbed to direct. I kept getting hints of a great story, but the scripts lately seem cobbled together by committee. Perhaps the PG-13 rating of the previous movie hurt sales and they went for this bland high school romance. Thankfully the kids have grown up into their characters and are enjoyable company on-screen as they banter and bicker. That’s the only reason this movie gets an above average rating from me. I saw it for free at a drive-in at the end of a Mini Cooper rally, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. No wonder they’re splitting the final book into two movies- if Voldemort doesn’t even show up in this one, they’ve got a lot of fighting to do if this series is going to be over any time soon.
Rating: 3 out of 5 annoying Anglophiles