Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrive in theaters, July 15 and you can read the review below.
There are two faces to the story of Harry Potter. The first is that of a young boy forced into the wondrous and oftentimes dark world of wizardry in order to destroy the evil Lord Voldevort who had long-ago murdered his parents. This is the face that bears the saga’s many adventures – magical tournaments and enchanted creatures, harrowing broomstick battles and spells exchanged like gunfire. It is also the face of mystery and intrigue – of secret sects both light and dark, of ministries of magic and old vendettas made new. Then there is the second face – the one of a boy growing slowly and awkwardly into manhood with friends who will prove to be the greatest of his life. It is the face of a boy becoming aware of his abilities and weaknesses, developing a passion for Potions or sports, discovering confidence and virtue, romance and responsibility. It is a face we’ve all worn, and while those of us who’ve followed Harry Potter on his seven-story adventure might never know the joys of conjuring a Patronus or casting some spectacular spell, we’ve all known the joyous — and occasionally painful — experience of growing up.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince knows this, too…
The sixth film in the franchise, Half-Blood Prince finds Harry thrust into a world that has finally, and stubbornly, accepted the return of Voldemort, a world in which Voldemort himself has doubled the efforts of his minions to rid Hogwarts of his many enemies there. The danger, as it does from book to book and film to film, has increased exponentially, and the secret to defeating this constant threat may just exist in a forgotten memory. Tasked by Dumbledore, Harry must befriend the newest addition to the Hogwarts staff, Professor Slughorn, and retrieve this long-lost recollection about a pivotal moment shared with a young Tom Riddle, then a student at the school. A recollection which will, believes Dumbledore, offer the key to the Dark Lord’s ultimate plan. Meanwhile, Snape’s suspicious activities, Draco’s scheming and frequent attacks by Bellatrix and her fellow Death Eaters all point to the inevitable final confrontation which many of you, no doubt, have experienced in the seventh and final book.
But if Half-Blood Prince is really about anything, it’s about that singular turning point into adulthood. It’s about the year in which Harry, Ron and Hermione discover romance as something to be embraced rather than embarrassed by…It’s the year in which each character finally seems to come into their own, and after two films heavy in plot and effects-laden action, we’re offered a portion of the story devoted to the development of the characters we’ve truly grown to love. It’s a testament to the brilliant balance of tones struck by director David Yates that the movie is able to shift between dark, somber moments in which characters must ultimately decide their loyalties and lighthearted, carefree exchanges between boys who are, much to their own chagrin, desperately in love with girls.
Yates is aided substantially by a set of actors whose performances continue to get better with each film, as well as a script that brings some of the more supporting characters to the forefront for a refreshing change of dynamics. The re-emergence of Draco and Ginny Weasley underscores both sides of the Harry Potter coin, forwarding the plot while demanding that Harry develop further as a character, never growing stagnant, both confronting enemies and admitting his growing affections. Ron’s interplay with Hermione in the film is also quite moving, allowing for equal instances of comedy and drama. And lastly, Jim Broadbent’s turn as the absent-minded, socialite Professor Slughorn is perhaps the best of the cameos we’ve seen to date – creating an immensely likeable and sympathetic character out of material that might easily have been more disagreeable in less capable hands.
The film’s only real weakness is one inherent to the series itself – that in trying to fill a school-year’s worth of time, most of what occurs in the movie simply feels like filler for the final few minutes. The “Thing That Happens at the End” – an event which we surely won’t spoil for you here – is, in a real sense, the only thing that actually happens, at least in as much as it relates to the continuing story of Harry’s battle against Voldemort. The events of Order of the Phoenix feel almost inconsequential here – just as the tournament in Goblet of Fire felt like something to puff up the page-count before Voldemort could re-appear in the final sequence. Thankfully, the character work is so finely developed in this outing that each of those concerns is quite easily forgiven amidst all the first-rate performances and overall impressive filmmaking. Readers should note, however, that the film cuts down substantially on the Voldemort flashbacks and never does explain the significance of the “Half-Blood Prince” — an odd omission, considering the title — but this is never to the detriment of the film itself.
That said, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a refreshing change of pace from the dynamic set pieces and wizarding intrigue of the last two films, offering up a heartfelt and surprisingly character-driven chapter in the epic saga of Harry vs. Voldemort. It is without a doubt among the very best in the cinematic series thusfar, second perhaps only to Azkaban, which to this critic offered the most skillful and well-executed balance of narrative and character, of momentum and pause, with never a beat of action too far from some honest and human exchange. Half-Blood Prince is a shockingly intimate film, propelled forward by its engaging characters into a few scattered moments of magical mayhem, yet never bores and never slows despite its insistence on following our heroes into their rapidly-approaching adulthood. It is, in a sense, the breath before the battle, setting up viewers for the epic confrontation to come – a battle so dark and so expansive that it’ll take two films to tell the entire story – and if the finale is conjured with all the drama and heart of this chapter, surely any reason to linger at Hogwarts a little longer will leave audiences shouting, “Abracadabra.”