I like the "Harry Potter" movies.
I liked this "Harry Potter" movie.
But I need to be a pill for just a minute and pose a bit of a geek-question about the whole thing, okay? Okay...
Thus far, every "Potter" film has broken down as follows: Harry comes to Hogwarts amid some kind of brewing unseemliness. The adult cast is fully aware that said unseemliness has everything to do with him, but allows him to blunder through it on his own anyway. Eventually, mysteries are solved, re-emerging peices of the evil entity to which Harry owes his fame are revealed, and Harry learns a new scrap of his own backstory... which apparently the entire adult cast is fully aware of but remains a traumatizing mystery to him.
So here's my question: After four years of this now, is it too much to ask for someone at Hogwarts to sit this poor kid down and just tell him everything and everyone he might need to know about in regards to Voldemort, his parents and everything else? So that maybe he DOESN'T have to nearly get himself killed the next time some new face with important connections to him shows up and starts to stir things up? Or at least let him Lexis-Nexis search "voldemort" on the crystal ball? Just asking.
But whatever. Here we go again, having now reached the midpoint of what's beginning to feel like the theatrical equivalent of a comfortably-entrenched TV show. This year's A-plot: Hogwarts is playing host to the Triwizard Tournament, a spellcasting olympics, and Harry finds himself drafted without having signed up to play. This year's B-plot: The kids are growing up, Harry's stealing glances at girls, Hermoine is suddenly intimidating her male pals in an entirely new way and Ron Weasley is becoming aware of how Jimmy Olsen must feel. This year's new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson,) a half-bionic, half-mad hardcase. This year's continuation of the Big Arc: Voldemort is back in flesh-and-blood, played by Ralph Feinnes and looking like a "Close Encounters" alien in a black robe.
Dropped in among the usual action scenes, wacky background magic and spellcasting is a bulky middle third that mines to amusing effect the juxtaposition of Hogwart's fantasy realm with the teenaged romance themes of John Hughes-style comedies. Racing dragons and fighting Voldemort is easy... compared to asking a girl to the dance! Har har har. You can see where this is all going, which is part of the point of doing these gags, but they work because the cast sells it and, yes, after four films worth of character building the series has earned the right to go to the "it's cut because so-and-so is dancing with such-and-such" well.
With so much attention on teen angst this go-around, the series' reliable cast of British character-acting giants gets largely pushed to the margins, but they're still having their fun: Gary Oldman's Sirius Black gets only a cameo, but in circumstances that render it singularly odd even among Gary Oldman cameos. And Alan Rickman's Professor Snape, previously best used for acid-tongued rebuking of the younger cast, has less to say but stars in a standout scene of physical comedy.
The bottom line is, the series still works, and it may even still be getting better. You like "Harry Potter," you're going to like this.
FINAL RATING: 8/10