The Harry Potter franchise is hit and miss. Some installments are absolutely wonderful, as seen with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and some are just plain dull, like the previous entry, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While the newest film is certainly better than the last, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a mixed bag of wonderful imagination with brilliant visuals and a tedious, overlong story. It's not the masterpiece fans of the book will make it out to be, but its assertive filmmaking easily overshadows its occasional flaw and makes it a magical ride that even non-readers will enjoy.
How do I know this? Because I'm one of those people. I haven't read any of the books and my knowledge of the franchise comes solely from the films and I enjoyed this latest entry. However, being the sixth installment in such a venerable franchise has its own problems. Reviewing a sixth movie in, say, a slasher franchise is different because you can most likely judge the film on its own merits, seeing as how many lack any semblance of a story. With such an extensive mythology in the Potter franchise, you have to factor in each film, remembering important plot points, character names and personalities, and more. But because of its vast back story, it's a bit hard to keep track at this point and I found myself lost at various points.
I spent too much time trying to figure out what exactly was going on rather than simply enjoying the fantasy before me. It's easy to follow the gist of it, but the smaller, more intricate details will undoubtedly go over the heads of the average viewer who doesn't have a vast knowledge of the previous films or books. It recalls past events, but I couldn't remember them. It mentions many characters (some of which do not even appear in this installment), but I wasn't sure who was being spoke of. It was exhausting, rather than pleasurable, to watch the film because I'm not an avid fan, which is to its detriment.
Still, Potter aficionados will love it, and rightfully so. It's well shot, well acted, and it features lavish sets that bode well with the terrific sense of imagination. It's an all around well done movie. The cinematography in particular is amazing, with a look about as beautiful as you can get in such a dark story. At one point, as a character lies on the ground bleeding profusely, the surroundings are pulled of many colors, almost to a black and white, yet the blood is bright red, looking very much like a graphic novel style film noir, and it was splendid.
With that said, the film is at a tonal crossroads. The premise of the film is supremely silly, but is taken gravely serious. Had it been taken down a more laidback path, would it have been better? I suspect not. It's too dark to be lighthearted, yet it's still kind of childish, resulting in an odd mish mash of dumb, slapstick humor and a heavy-handed narrative.
As with the previous film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is anticlimactic. It builds and builds for two and a half hours only to disappoint with a lackluster ending that resolves nothing. I understand that this film is supposed to set-up the next, but the previous one was a set-up for this, and the one before that a set-up for the last, and so on. By the sixth film, I'm ready for the conclusion. Enough toying with us. Just finish this story.
When all is said and done, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is still an accomplished film thanks to its aesthetically pleasing visuals and the talents of the three fine young actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, who after five movies look comfortable enough in this sixth chapter to convey the illusion that I was watching their characters rather than their real life counterparts. That's not to say they were bad in the previous films, but their work here is more cohesive and helps to hold some of the blander scenes together. Potter fans will indubitably be able to look past some of the flaws, filling in some missing sections of the story subconsciously due to their expertise with the books, but that in no way makes this a great movie. All the same, it's still an entertaining, if sometimes erroneous, adventure and it's well worth seeing.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince receives 3.5/5