After much of the good work from the third and fourth instalments of the Harry Potter franchise was undone by the bloated, forgettable Order of the Phoenix, there is a huge sense of something to prove in the sixth outing for the scarred chosen one. Alfonso CuarÃƒ³n and then Mike Newell not only gave the series much needed tension but both also coaxed some fine moments from the young cast.
When David Yates, a director associated with TV work rather than movie making (he brought us the brilliant State Of Play mini series) got the assignment last time out, things retreated to a dull trudge once again, however, both in terms of plot and performances. Thankfully, he hasn’t made the same mistakes this time around.
First up, the huge bonus from Yates’ second stint in the director’s chair is that there’s no urge to bang your head against a wall over the acting skills of the main trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Watson occasionally gets a little over-dramatic but in general, all three acquit themselves quite well, with Grint again the pick of the bunch. Yates even manages to get a non-wooden turn from Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, an achievement that has seemed unlikely since 2001’s Philosopher’s Stone.
The plot sees Harry coping with the resurgent power of Voldemort, though Ralph Fiennes doesn’t make an actual appearance here, instead the menace comes from flashbacks to the Dark Lord’s childhood which may well point towards a way to destroy him. Voldemort’s small band of Death Eaters (including Helena Bonham Carter, who now seems to play a different barmy cow no matter what film she turns up in) also continues to pose a threat, along with a plot involving Malfoy, some poisoned booze, cursed chains, possessed kids and a closet that makes things disappear.
Added to all this, in amongst the darkness, large portions of the script are dominated by nascent romance for the three leads. There’s an obsessive admirer for Ron, a hugely funny rugger bugger interested in Hermione, while for Harry there’s all sorts between Ron’s sister Ginny, a love potion-making class-mate and even a girl in a London Underground greasy spoon cafe who seems a good 10 years older than Daniel Radcliffe (g’wan, the chosen one!)
Considering we’ve all of the above to deal with, for those like State who don’t read the books, it can seem a little scattershot; something which the team behind the movies may be trying to rectify next time out by splitting up the final novel (The Deathly Hallows) into two movies.
Overall though, Yates and director of photography, Bruno Delbonnel (A Very Long Engagement, Amelie) carve out some excellent sequences; paramount amongst which is a brilliantly shot chase scene through the fields surrounding the Weasley family home. The obligatory Quidditch game is a vast improvement on others as well, while the final 20 minutes, so often the downfall of the series thus far, are a highlight this time around, Hogwarts and its surrounds haven’t looked this well since Prisoner of Azkaban.
With superior performances from Jim Broadbent as a shady new professor and the always reliable Michael Gambon to add into the mix, this ends up being one of the better blockbuster offerings this summer. At this stage, most will have their minds made up on the Potter movies, and for those who have come this far and are still enjoying themselves, this should be just what they’re after.