Harry Potter (films)

⭐⭐⭐½ averaged across 8 films.

tl;dr: The acting steadily improves, the plot remains pretty faithful, and ultimately it could have been a much worse set of films. Of course, the Prisoner of Azkaban remains the jewel in the crown, but its safe to say no entry is a total failure.

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Wizarding World

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I wouldn't say I've remained as big of a fan of Harry Potter as many of my friends, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed rewatching this film. The opening sequence with Dumbledore "turning out the lights" remains an incredibly well-paced sequence that is literally thrilling to watch; a feeling that is matched by the entrance of Hagrid moments later.

In terms of setting up the world, the core plot threads and the characters, The Philosopher's Stone is surprisingly well put together. My recollection was that the child actors were awful and the story woefully lacking in depth, but I now feel that that was an unfair appraisal. Watson, Grint and Radcliffe are certainly not perfect in their roles, but it rarely bothered me or snapped me out of the story. Plus, the surrounding cast is fantastic, both in acting skills and just plain audacity. It was great fun spotting "new" actors who I had never realised were in the film when I was a kid, such as John Cleese's Nearly-Headless Nick! Overall I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Far more than The Philosopher's Stone (but much less than The Goblet of Fire), The Chamber of Secrets definitely felt like a greatest hits of the core sequences from the book. Several key scenes were presented without any real explanation and the foreshadowing that held the first film together was almost entirely absent. Bit characters, such as Gilderoy Lockhart, feel overly like parodies of themselves but do maintain a sense of purpose as comic relief.

On the flip side, the world and (particularly) creature design go from strength-to-strength. The basilisk is wonderfully sinister, yet snake-like enough that the Parseltongue subplot stays meaningful and the various cameos, such as the Mandrakes, remain both grounded yet magical, helping the world feel much more consistent than it rightfully should. Fawkes has always irked me a little, but this time around felt a lot more logical – even if I feel that a phoenix should be more beautiful (and less deus ex machinima) than this portrayal!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

If asked, for years I would quote The Prisoner of Azkaban as my personal favourite film. I've always loved the darkness of the book, which for me always held very close ties with Halloween (werewolves, haunted houses, the introduction of wizarding candy etc.) aka my favourite day of the year! Viewing it again after so long definitely highlights that, from a filmography point of view, my long-held beliefs hold true. There are some truly stunning sequences throughout the film and it holds up exceedingly well. I'm not as big of a fan as some people when it comes to the famous one-take exposition sequences, finding them a little overly rigid and unnatural, but the camera transitions through mirrors/glass remain mesmerising. The unique soundscape of this film also sets it apart, particularly the frequently utilised "Toil and Trouble" musical snippets that are blended into the more generic themes used throughout the franchise.

Time is obviously a key element to the plotline and the frequent use of clocks and ticking are also worthy of mention, but the cleverest tie-back to this theme is the Whomping Willow. The tree plays a much larger role in The Prisoner of Azkaban than in any other film in the franchise, thanks to the hidden tunnels beneath its roots, so utilising frequent wide shots focusing in the willow to also depict the changing seasons is incredibly effective and very clever.

From a storyline perspective, however, film three was a bit of a letdown. Key plot points are entirely ignored, such as the authors of the Marauders Map, despite ample time being available to the scriptwriters. These aren't just the standard annoyances of book-lovers irritated by their favourite scenes being left out, but truly key details that help explain character interaction. Without understanding how close Sirius, Remus and James Potter actually were the events of the storyline lack the same emotional punch. Similarly, Sirius, though played wonderfully by Gary Oldman, switches from raving lunatic to eloquent hero in the blink of an eye without any real explanation. His menacing appearance at the start of the film is never explained, his attack on Ron is lightly brushed aside without any apology and he really presents very little meaningful evidence to suggest he isn't at least associated with the Death Eaters before everyone suddenly trusts him again. Plus, what happened to Snape! Did he just get blasted out the back of the Shivering Shack? How did he catch them up? Where did he go after Lupin's transformation?

Then there is Lupin himself, whose werewolf form has aged somewhat. I frequently find films from this time period (and even more recently), suffer from the CGI looking very dated, whereas practical effects tend to be more resilient. From a plot point of view, there's also very little build up to his transformation, with only the slightest of hints here and there, resulting in a total lack of threat. Certainly, Hermione's outburst that she had been "protecting" him feels very sudden and unwarranted as we had no idea he needed protecting! All of this is a shame, because Lupin and his associated condition are some of the more interesting aspects of this story from a wider, real-world perspective as an analysis into how we treat people with incurable disease.

Still, The Prisoner of Azkaban is a kids film and perhaps these loftier analyses are right to have been left out. Overall it remained a very well crafted entry to the series with some exceptional filmography and clever character development.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

AKA the one where Edward Cullen meets Harry Potter. Quick aside, but how interesting would a cross over between those two universes actually be? Vampires are hinted at in the Potterverse, but never explicitly outlined (to my knowledge), but would magic be a threat to them or as easily brushed off as bullets (daylight spells aside)?

Generally, The Goblet of Fire was exactly how I remembered it: action-packed, but an almost nonsensical plot due to the amount of story development that had to be cut. Other, equally long books in the series manage a much finer balance between simplifying the plotline and still presenting the core scenes. The Goblet of Fire, in comparison, feels like a film where they simply took the book and kept cutting stuff until it fit their time limit, then filmed it, regardless of how well connected the resultant story sections actually were.

To be clear, The Goblet of Fire isn't an awful film. It holds true to the source material, the character design and acting are as brilliant as ever (read: the kids are better than last time, the adults are amazing), and you won't regret the overall time investment. In pretty much every other way though, from cinematics to scripting, The Goblet of Fire is arguably the worst in the franchise. Sorry, Cedric!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I started my review of The Prisoner of Azkaban by stating that it has long been my answer to the question "Which is your favourite Harry Potter film". Rewatching The Order of the Phoenix, however, stirred up some long-forgotten memories and feelings, as a result of which I will have to revise my answer. This is my favourite film (and book) in the franchise. How on earth had I forgotten that?!

Thematically and cinematically, The Order of the Phoenix is not as tight nor as clever as Azkaban, but the emotional impact it hits me with is far greater. Dolores Umbridge is just a remarkably clever antagonist, walking a tight line between fantastical witch and authoritarian bureaucrat, the latter making her actually relatable to the viewers' own lives. It is this relatability that I feel makes The Order of the Phoenix so much more than the sum of its parts.

Objectively, the plot is very much a bridge, moving the viewer away from a Hogwarts that is beset by annual monstrous threats but ultimately very disconnected from the wider Wizarding world in which it is set, towards a Hogwarts that is very clearly influenced (and influencing) an entire civilisation. This transition is a requirement for the over-arching plot to develop, for the impact of Voldemort's return to be felt, and for the (now teenage) main characters to begin their first steps into adulthood. In the same way that everyone's world expands rapidly during their teenage years, as you begin to grasp the immensity and subtleties of the society you live within, so Rowling forces the world of Hogwarts to expand. The effect is very subtle, but when combined with an almost non-magical threat that could so easily exist in our own world (blood quills aside), the result is a story that feels deeply personal.

The stakes, of course, have also been raised and the repercussions are felt very deeply. The division within the wizarding world over whether He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has actually returned and, therefore, who to trust – the government or one of the most respected individuals in their society – feel real, both inside and outside of the school itself. Core characters begin making irreversible decisions, with the Weasley twin's effectively choosing expulsion or the (arguably darker) impact of school kids having to train themselves for war, effectively choosing a side in doing so.

Ultimately, others may not feel as strongly about The Order of the Phoenix as I do, but it clearly speaks to something buried deep within me. The underlying themes of racism, particularly with the introduction of "half breed" characters such as Grorp and the increasing feud of the centaurs, are very cleverly woven into the plot. They feel neither forced nor centre stage but, unlike The Goblet of Fire, the filmmakers have managed to make them fit. Sure, a lot has still been cut and even more has been simplified, but the result is arguably the most internally consistent film in the franchise.

tl;dr:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I find the sixth entry in the Harry Potter franchise almost entirely forgetful. Rewatching the films has reminded me how much I still remember about the books and many of the cinematic scenes have stuck with me over the years. Not so with The Half-Blood Prince. I remember almost nothing of the film (so much I'm genuinely unsure if it is a rewatch or not), don't recall the book at all and actually just had to Google the title whilst writing this review!

I think it may have something to do with the plot feeling very much open-ended. A large part of the storyline concerns itself with setting up future plot threads or resolving lingering inconsistencies, particularly with inter-character relationships, which are focused on a lot. I can fully understand if the emphasis on teenage romance is why The Half-Blood Prince feels so lacklustre, but I think the film almost amplifies the effect. The titular mystery doesn't so much take a backseat in the film as it is almost entirely ignored. The textbook that introduces the character has been reduced to a simple plot device allowing Harry and Slughorn to coherently form a relationship, though simultaneously is undercut by Dumbledore's belief that being the "boy who lived" is reason enough for Slughorn to desire Harry's entry to the collection of students he prizes so much.

As a result, the end revelation regarding the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, the subsequent betrayal of Dumbledore and the (seeming) conclusion to the whole Snape question feels somewhat lacking. The book is arguably the one entry in the series which focuses on a character other than Potter and Voldemort: Severus Snape himself. The relative lack of the occlumency lessons and, particularly, the insights into Snape that they reveal means that the character remains far more mysterious and open to interpretation in the film. Instead, the emotional impact has been shifted onto a "will they, won't they" circus of teenage angst surrounding Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione. Ultimately, I feel they cut the wrong plotline.

Still, the tone of the movie is well placed, with some nice colour manipulation throughout that give the film a real sense of foreboding. This isn't the work of a master producer, but it's still nice to see and lends itself particularly well to Draco's subplot. Indeed, arguably the best-crafted sequences in the film are the frequent panning shots or subtle framing used to constantly remind the viewer about Draco. Without spending too much time with the character centre stage, the crew keep us in permanent suspense as to what his plans are whilst making it clear that he is being manipulated beyond his will, isolated from his friends and family. Subtle but poignant, it's a shame the same level of care wasn't taken with the similar issues playing out between Snape and Dumbledore themselves.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

A perfectly decent yet ultimately forgettable entry into the franchise. It does what it needs to: sets up the various character arcs and story points necessary for the big finale. The mood is distinctly sombre, far more than in any previous part of the franchise, which can get a little dragging at times. Also, despite having split the book into two films, several key details are still skipped out which makes several scenes less impactful overall. The various colour filters are also back from film six in force.

Despite all the above, I enjoyed the film. The moments with both Dobby and Luna's father are solid instances that highlight the growing stakes and real repercussions that are beginning to occur, even for relatively minor characters. Actually, a shout out to the scene with Mr Lovegood. There is no reason for this scene to stand out in my memory as much as it does, but it's wonderfully well put together and very powerfully acted, even if the betrayal is a little telegraphed. In stark contrast are the scenes between Harry and Ron leading up to the latter ultimately leaving (and then suddenly returning). Though I understand it shows the evil of the horcrux, the ultimate payoff is lacklustre. I remember feeling the same way in the book, but because the book was one story it felt less important by the end. By splitting the film in two, this plotline had to carry a lot more and unfortunately does feel a little flat. It's also clearly lifted directly from LotR...

Ultimately, Part 1 is entirely overshadowed by the climactic conclusion in Part 2, but as a setup film it does what it needs to, remains entertaining and helps the franchise take further steps away from its childish roots.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Somehow, this is genuinely a first time viewing for me. I'm not really too sure what happened that meant I never got round to watching the final film in the franchise, but I now realise I've been missing out.

The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the conclusion I have been craving, without ever realising it. The battles are epic and moving, with clever moments of comedy interwoven with grand, sweeping scenes which genuinely feel like the world is teetering on a knife-edge. It's not immensely clever stuff, but it is damn impactful and completely riveting. It also provides the payoff to all the dark, brooding, depressing build-up of Part 1 (and, to a lesser degree, The Half-Blood Prince as well).

Do I feel that the revelation of Snape's true character could have been a little better handled and impactful? Yes, but Alan Rickman closes out his role on a seriously impressive performance and the scene with Harry and the pensieve was very well done (that CGI effect was on point throughout the films actually). I also felt the moment that Neville uses the Sword of Gryffindor could have been done better. I've heard so much about that scene and how much of a fist-pump moment it is that it felt kind of deflating actually watching it. Maybe it's just suffering from being hyped up but I definitely feel the music and framing could have made it more epic somehow.

Overall though I've not felt as connected with the Potter franchise as I have since watching all the films again. In particular, seeing the ending done so well and on such a grand scale has completely reawakened my love of these characters and seriously amped up my anticipation for Fantastic Beasts later this year.

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