Mischief managed, faith restored. In his second outing, director David Yates strikes the right balance between overplot spectacle and the character relationships that will undo the Dark Lord himself.
Starting his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is famous once again, as no doubt remains that “you know who” has indeed returned. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is closer than ever to unraveling the mystery of Voldemort’s undoing, but a missing clue may reside with Hogwart’s new potions master, Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). While enduring the relationships of his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry himself will have to split his time between befriending Slughorn, keeping a suspicious eye open for Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and sorting out girl troubles of his own. But at least potions class will be easy, thanks to the previously written notes in an old textbook once belonging to someone calling themselves “The Half-Blood Prince.”
To say that things were missing from Order of the Phoenix would be saying magic is mysterious. Important elements were introduced without explanation on top of special effects that undercut J.K. Rowlings well-crafted rules of magic merely for the sake of spectacle. The filmmakers get it right this time around, cutting swaths of spectacle out to get to core story lines and put the series back on course. Nonetheless, a running time of two and a half hours goes by very quickly, and considering the infamous ending of book six, extreme care was taken to make the ending matter while still sending audiences home with Harry Potterish hope.
The cast is again spot on, with everyone slipping easily into their characters. With plenty of opportunities in the dialogue to wink toward the camera at revelations such as “Why is it you three are always in the middle of all the mischief,” our three heroes feel like family since audiences have watched them grow up together. On the other side of that coin, the Death Eaters have become embolden to strike when and where they like, and even the world of muggles is becoming aware that something terrible is coming.
Like the films before it, The Half-Blood Prince also manages to introduce yet another part of Hogwarts previously unseen for staging the action in, while old familiar locations feel like home. Unlike the previous films, however, it’s also clear that the school for wizards and witches no longer feels safe and that our heroes have already grown beyond it. More than a few things were set up for the final chapter in this film, and while things were left out of The Half-Blood Prince for time (speaking with the Prime Minister, the assault on Hogwarts, the significance of Fenrir Greyback), a few of them are somewhat repeated in the final chapter and hopefully will be covered in detail when that time comes. In the meantime, six down and two to go.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)