Film Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This latest, more mature installment in the “prince” of franchises should prove to be one of the strongest, as better plotting, pacing, effects and always delicious Brit cast tempt more elders to join the kid masses.

Everything about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, including more graphic confrontations with love and death, seems more grown-up, which is not to say that the key elements that have kept the younger generations ecstatic have been disturbed.

Again, beloved Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) calls upon gifted wizard hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), summoning him back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to solve a mystery that will obliterate the evil forces unleashed by arch-villain Lord Voldemort. This latter (previously played by Ralph Fiennes) does not appear in Half-Blood, but what a strong presence he is.

Motivated by the fact that Voldemort killed his mother, Harry is charged with destroying the last slice of Voldemort’s soul. His evil is behind the Death Eaters that torment the country and provide some eye-popping moments of very special effects as they wreak horrendous, flaming havoc.

To this noble end of finally vanquishing Voldemort, Dumbledore manages to lure bumbling potions professor Horace Slughorn (deliciously played by Potter newcomer and Oscar-winning Jim Broadbent) out of retirement and back to Hogwarts. Years prior, Slughorn was close to former Hogwarts student Tom Riddle (played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Frank Dillane), who became Voldemort. It seems Slughorn retains several memory slivers of Riddle that are critical to destroying Voldemort, but the dotty prof refuses to give them up. So Dumbledore places the challenge in Harry’s hands.

Though only a part of his soul exists, Voldemort is further evoked through allies like no-good Harry arch-enemy Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), the troublemaking blond creep; sleazy, slimy Professor Serverus Snape (Alan Rickman), an avatar of sublime villainy; and the dark, menacing Beatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), whose name appropriately evokes “tricks,” “dominatrix” and “strange.”

Ever-sweet and quietly cunning Harry befriends Slughorn and maneuvers to unleash his memories of Riddle. A good-luck potion that Harry wins as a result of excellent lab work in Slughorn’s class will prove useful. Also useful is the heavily annotated potions textbook, having belonged to a mysterious “half-blood prince,” that falls into Harry’s hands.

In his sleuthing and wizarding, Harry is again supported by best buds Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The trio have been hugely reliable constants throughout the Potter franchise.

In addition to nagging enemies, “chosen” wizard Harry and pals must also deal with nagging hormonal urges. Their flirtations contribute to the film’s maturity but in no way deplete the time-worn adventure elements so dear to kids. Crushes and flirtations are inevitable amongst the now-older teen cliques of Hogwarts. Betraying Muggle origins, Harry is smitten with a waitress he meets early on and with Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Ron’s sister; Ron, with the help of a love potion, falls deliriously but briefly in love; and Hermione all but suppresses amorous feelings for Ron.

Half-Blood, again enriched by many deeply atmospheric sets and locations, provides more characters, plot elements, and appearances by a huge cast of wonderful British actors, including Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and David Thewlis. Special effects are notched up and even the effects-laden airborne gladiatorial soccer matches are back and more eye-popping than ever. Suffice it to say that the film, packed as it is, delivers great fun and engaging populist movie entertainment, even at 153 minutes and even for those of voting age.