Imagine if Raiders of the Lost Ark just stopped after the Nazi’s took Marion off of Katanga’s boat. Or if Star Wars quit right after Han Solo took his reward and split. Both movies were super fun up until that point, but without the opening of the Ark or the assault on the Death Star, they would be sorely lacking. That is the feeling that persists as the final credits roll on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. A diverting film which serves as more of a second act to a larger narrative this is a movie of promises made rather than promises kept.
Those promises are the same ones that the series has been making for six movies now – the final show down with the Dark Lord. Along side Dumbledore (Michal Gambon) Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) strives to elicit a lost memory from the bumbling Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), which holds the key to defeating Voldemort. Kept at arms length from the bigger picture are Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) who are relegated to the overly large B-Story department. Their blossoming romance, fueled by jealousy and longing, is just one of many subplots filled with teen angst, all of which serve to underscore the themes of maturation and coming of age.
The copious subplots range from Harry’s lingering crush on Ron’s sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright), to the book of potions Harry finds which once belonged to this mysterious Half-Blood Prince. With so much going on there is little time to concentrate on any one of them for very long, and consequently most come off half-baked. When the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is revealed it is too anti-climactic to register, but one would hope that this plot, one of the more interesting, will play a more significant role in the final two films.
But that is the real issue with Half-Blood Prince, and of the last three films in the series. There is so much set up, and almost no payoff. With the films since the third being, for the most part, good – terrible would be generous for the first two chapters – they have all suffered from the fact that inherently there is no finality to them. In this archetypal setup, a young boy must grow into a man by facing the worst evil the world has ever known, his journey isn’t complete until he has vanquished that evil. Where this growth from boy to man is usually metaphoric the Harry Potter series takes it quite literally, and unfortunately, as those who are past puberty know, this change goes agonizingly slow. Where the narrative as a whole spread over eight films, may be a triumphant success, taken piecemeal they are unfulfilled.
Under the direction of David Yates, who helmed the best of the series so far The Order of the Phoenix, and is currently directing the two part Deathly Hollows, the film is a well maintained mess. Beautiful to look at, and crafted with a master touch he infuses the whole picture with a sense of doom that makes up for some of the other failings. In a sequence toward the end where Dumbledore and Harry search a dingy cave seemly somewhere in Middle Earth Yates conjures up enough of a creepy vibe he may scare the tears out of some younger viewers. However, in the end, Yates tries to juggle the bloated script’s many balls, but ultimately a few too many fall to the ground.
The acting has grown in leaps and bounds since the Sorcerer’s Stone when the three leads were only in their pre-teens. Gambon turns a fun Obi-Wan type performance, which is more serious than in previous films. A high point in the other films Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid is sadly almost absent here. Jim Broadbent is good as Slughorn, who is a main focus at the beginning of the film, but eventually fades into the background, another casualty to the excess. Counter-intuitively Alan Rickman’s Snape captures less screen time than in the earlier films, but his character takes on more importance.
It is hard to judge this film as a stand alone because it could never be seen by itself. Without having seen the previous films – this one picks up right after Phoenix – one would be at a loss. There are too many ingrained relationships, too much back-story for Half-Blood Prince to exist all by its lonesome. History may prove that this film is a great lead in to the final act of the Potter saga, but alone, like Harry in his epic battle against evil, it would be doomed to failure.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5 (3 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)