(In preparation for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts film, I will be reviewing all of the Harry Potter moview)
After the rather abysmal offering that was Goblet of Fire, first time feature director David Yates brings some much needed style and gravity back to the series.
Voldemort’s return, though ardently denied by the authorities, casts a shadow over Harry’s return to the once haven of Hogwarts. The Ministry of Magic’s attempt to quash any rumors of the mounting threat leads to the appointment of the odious Delores Umbridge to Hogwarts staff. As Umbridge begins to systematically destroy Harry’s refuge at school, Voldemort continues to plot from the shadows.
Based on the longest book in the series, this is the shortest film, and the difficulties in adaptation definitely show. I was unfortunately reminded of the Sorcerer’s Stone’s very rushed first act at times here. While not near as clunky as some of Columbus’ more unfortunate moments, the pacing is quite awkward in the beginning, scrambling from plot point to plot point with wild abandon. It settles into a much more comfortable pace once we reach the school, but the strain of forcing the books sprawling plot into the film’s comparatively modest run time is very apparent. And ultimately this robs the film of some of the emotional connection it could have had.
But there is much to love here. Yate’s directorial style here is quite similar to Cuaron’s, which is to say, fantastic. After Newell’s deeply goofy treatment of the world, a return to the much more integrated and powerful magic of Azkaban, is hugely refreshing.
And here for the first time, we get to see a full blown wizard’s duel… And it is glorious! Yate’s direction of the climactic battle is exciting and visually creative. Probably my favorite action set piece in the series. And Dumbldore and Voldy’s showdown is the definition of epic, gorgeous, and positively pulsing with the feeling of raw power.
And while there’s a deep sense of foreboding and melancholy pervading the film, Yates is able to deftly weave in a delightful sense of humor and fun. The mix of darkness and genuine humor is fairly seamless.
Daniel Radcliffe’s performance is once again improved. His character is forced to endure far more than before, and Radcliffe pulls off the added depth admirably. I hugely enjoyed watching Harry step into the role teacher and leader he seemed destined for.
The rest of the returning cast is excellent as always. Gary Oldman receives some much needed extra screen time and is predictably wonderful.
And then there’s Umbridge… She may be the most despicable creature to ever disgrace the screen, and Imelda Staunton is beyond perfect in the role. Forget Voldemort, I’ve never wanted a film character dead as much as I did her.
Longstanding mysteries are partially answered, and even more are added, and overall the story is progressed in a very intriguing and emotionally satisfying way.
Overall, the film’s rather erratic pacing mars it’s overall quality, but Yate’s fantastic direction makes the trip wildly enjoyable. The story is still darker than before and we see the beginning engagements in what will soon be all out war. The tone, while far from humorless, reflects the gravity of the situation very well.
It’s a pretty great fantasy film, that more than earns it’s place in the series.
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