HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
**** (Out of 5)
Director: David Yates
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman
PERIL MEETS PUPPY LOVE
Even if it is based upon one of the most successful series of novels ever written, a movie franchise six installments in can still get stale. Which is exactly why the newest Harry Potter film breaks from tradition and shirks the summertime slapstick between Harry and his annoying Muggle relatives and jumps right into Death Eaters raining devastation over London. Soon after, Harry flirts with a waitress he hopes to see later, but when Dumbledore appears nearby we know that will never happen. It’s not just time to return to Hogwarts for another year at school; the stakes have been raised on a massive scale and ready or not, Harry must become an adult.
The darkest chapter yet in the Potter saga, …The Half-Blood Prince shows prattling punk Draco Malfoy to be more dangerous than previously suspected and reveals Severus Snape’s sinister allegiances. Harry even gets corrupted by a potion book previously owned by a mysterious entity only known as the Half-Blood Prince, and he also gets a glimpse, through magically stored memories, into the nefarious student years of the young Lord Voldemort (known then as Tom Riddle), whose younger incarnations recall the creepy Damien from The Omen. The specific memories of one of the Dark Lord’s former tutors, Professor Horace Slughorn, who is lured back to Hogwarts to teach Harry, are essential in stopping the evil threatening the Wizard and Muggle world. But he is terrified of revealing them fully without fear of retaliation, and Harry must find a way to change that.
Death, devastation and impending doom swirl around Hogwarts and the outside world in the latest Potter film, prefacing the ultimate showdown between Harry and Voldemort that we know will come. But the dark drama and magical duels are also balanced by romantic comedy as the three main young Wizards all find someone to pine over and snog. Indeed the comedic relief — such as Ron becoming intoxicated by a love spell meant for Harry — often collides with moments of gravity and helps keep the epic film moving along briskly without becoming too dour. It’s fun to see that the characters are growing up, no matter how melodramatic some of their puppy love antics might seem or how weird any sexual tension in a Harry Potter movie comes off to some. (They can’t stay kids forever, folks.)
Fairly well balanced between colorful cheer and monochromatic menace by director David Yates, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise with its blend of ominous overtones, romantic levity and wide-eyed wonder. There are admittedly times when this epic series feels like a big tease — Star Wars initially took three films to reach its big pay off, whereas Harry Potter will take eight — and one key battle sequence feels like it’s right out of Lord of the Rings, but the characters’ personal evolution, some important revelations and the brewing Wizard war keep it fresh. It’s nice to know that after eight years there is still joy to be found in watching a new Harry Potter film.