(In preparation for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts films I will be reviewing all of the Harry Potter films)
Where to begin?
This is easily the best film in the Harry Potter series. From the very opening shot, director Alfonso Cuaron announces his presence with his signature stylish camerawork and long takes. There’s more personality and energy in nearly every scene here, than in just about the entirety of the two previous films combined.
First off the story is even darker, more mature and just more interesting, thanks not only to Cuaron’s beautiful, confident direction, but also to the fact that this is where Rowling began weaving in the larger story in a much more gripping and purposeful way.
In this story we have our heroic trio returning to Hogwarts, but the delightful school is not the haven it once was, thanks to the escape of the desperate convict, Sirius Black, who seems hell bent on eliminating Harry.
The flow of story and pacing is much faster. There’s much more to tell here. But with some very clever adapting on Cuaron and screenwriter Steve Kloves part, we are always kept up to speed and the story transitions rarely feel in any way jarring.
As with the previous film, the lead trio’s acting and chemistry has yet again improved significantly. Especially from Daniel Radcliffe as Harry. He takes on an much more leading role with a new confidence and stronger dramatic chops. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have likewise grown into their roles and hold their own in scenes with far more experienced actors admirably. Watson especially is delightful, and had I been younger when I first watched these films I would have no doubt developed something of a large crush on her.
Richard Harris unfortunately passed away in between Chamber of Secrets and this one, but Michael Gambon more than fills his shoes. He retains the charm and whimsy of Harris’ performance, but adds just a tinge of much needed power and danger that was entirely absent from the previous actor’s take.
Alan Rickman is yet again the greatest thing to happen to this series, and the rest of the returning cast continue to give depth and personality to this world.
But the real standouts are newcomers David Thewlis as Remus Lupin and Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. Thewlis brings both a warmth and deep sadness as a much needed mentor for Harry. Their scenes together are some of the best in the film.
And Gary Oldman is Gary Oldman. That is to say, amazing!
There are a few times, especially towards the beginning, where Cuaron’s personality and creativity go a bit too far. There are overly quirky magical moments, that just stick out awkwardly and don’t meld with the rest of the series or the books. They aren’t a huge issue, but they do stick in this book fan’s craw a bit.
And did I mention that this movie has my favorite depiction of time travel in any film(yes, including Back to the Future)? Cuaron’s telling, than perfectly expanded retelling of Rowling’s brilliant two-part climax is positively spellbinding. The way the characters actions in both timelines are perfectly woven together in a way that manages to maintain logical consistency is a sheer joy to watch. And as book fan it was wonderful to see this incredible sequence so beautifully and imaginatively translated.
While I enjoyed the classical whimsy of the previous two installments, this near masterpiece was exactly the kick in the pants then series needed to reach it’s potential.
Alfonso Cuaron needs to make more franchise films.
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