Yet even in these sinister days, time must be taken for teens to do what teens do they explore relationship possibilities. And Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince devotes a good portion of its running time to fleshing out Harry, Ron, and Hermione's burgeoning love lives.
The StoryHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince starts off with a rush of activity as the citizens of London come under attack by Death Eaters. Though they can't see the creatures wreaking havoc on the city, they feel the affects of each attack. Millennium Bridge collapses killing untold numbers, however no one outside of the wizarding world understands this is just the beginning of destruction should Voldemort fully return.
Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) knows time is running out and so he seeks out Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) to accompany him on an extremely important visit with Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a retired Hogwarts potions professor. Buried in Slughorn's memory is a conversation that took place with a teenaged Tom Riddle, a pivotal conversation in young Riddle's life and one that's vitally important to Dumbledore.
While the forces of good are busy on their quest for knowledge, Voldemort's recruited Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) for a very special mission, a mission Draco's mother, Narcissa (Helen McCrory), and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) make Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) commit to an unbreakable pledge to assist with. Draco spends his days skulking about, sneaking off into the Room of Requirement and experimenting with a vanishing cabinet, looking nauseated, scared to death, and pissed off at the world all at the same time. It's not a task Draco relishes, but one he has no option but to carry out.
Meanwhile, the romantic yearnings of our favorite threesome of teen wizards provides welcome moments of comic relief. Harry's hot for Ron's younger sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright), but Ginny's got a boyfriend. Ron's gotten himself involved in a relationship with Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) and this is driving poor Hermione (Emma Watson) absolutely mad. She's miserable, but Ron either can't or chooses not to see what's so obvious to everyone else.
The ActingThe acting skills of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint get better with each successive Harry Potter film. It's surreal to go back and watch Sorcerer's Stone and see just how young these guys were when the franchise kicked off back in 2001. It doesn't feel like it was all that long ago that Radcliffe, Watson and Grint first donned the red and gold of Gryffindor house. Now the three will, no matter what they go on to do, forever be associated with one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. Hopefully they'll come out of it in better shape than some actors who've headlined franchises...
The Bottom LineThis is David Yates' second Harry Potter film and he's obviously comfortable in this world of wizards and Death Eaters and magical creatures created by J.K. Rowling. I'm anxious to see what Yates and returning screenwriter Steve Kloves (he only missed Order of the Phoenix) are able to do with Deathly Hallows.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince isn't the most action-packed Harry Potter film, but what it lacks in thrilling scenes of magical maneuverings, it makes up for in character development and emotional depth. The visual effects, while stunning, do not overwhelm and slip unobtrusively into scenes.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains my favorite Harry Potter film thus far. But Half-Blood Prince is a worthy addition to the Harry Potter franchise, one that will likely be loved more by those who've read the books than by those who only know the Harry Potter universe from what they've seen onscreen. There are major chunks of Rowling's sixth book that didn't make the transition to the big screen, but what's there is perfectly in keeping with the tone and themes expressed in the Half-Blood Prince the book.
Theatrical Release: 7/15/09