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Harry Potter and the raging hormones

Half-Blood Prince offers more emotion than action

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is more angst than action, but as a lead-up for the final movies, it’s an unqualified success.

If the Harry Potter franchise were a TV series, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were the penultimate episode right before the explosive two-part season finale, then you could probably count it as an unqualified success. As it is, however, the films in the Potter series have to stand alone, and Half-Blood Prince has to carry audiences all the way until November 2010, when the first half of that two-part finale (the epic adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s final Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) will arrive in theaters. So Half-Blood Prince, being composed almost entirely of set-up for the oversized climax, is a bit unsatisfying on its own. The last few Potter movies have basically abandoned the idea of telling complete stories on their own; instead each functioned as one part of the lengthy build-up to the eventual showdown between Harry and evil wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who doesn’t even show up in this installment).

Half-Blood Prince does the same, opening with the entire magic world on edge as the threat of Voldemort and his associates grows ever stronger. Under this dark cloud, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his constant companions Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return for their sixth year at Hogwarts, the still-whimsical school for wizards. You’d think that with the world perpetually on the verge of ending there’d be little time for such mundane considerations as dates and crushes, but you’d be mistaken. Actually, Half-Blood Prince spends so much time on the teen-movie antics of Harry, Ron, Hermione and their classmates that for long stretches the movie is mostly snogging and swooning interrupted occasionally by Death Eaters, giant spiders and whatnot.

Half-Blood Prince is by far the funniest of the Harry Potter movies and the screenwriting and directing team will stick around for the final two flicks.

The Details

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Three stars
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson.
Directed by David Yates.
Rated PG
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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
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That’s not a bad thing, though—if Harry isn’t going to vanquish Voldemort this time around (which, duh, he isn’t), then we might as well have something else entertaining to distract us from the fact that very little is happening, plot-wise. Returning director David Yates—who helmed 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and is on board for the rest of the series—and screenwriter Steve Kloves (back after sitting out Phoenix) deliver by far the funniest Potter movie yet, allowing Radcliffe, Grint and Watson to show off their comedic chops and emotional ranges that move beyond fear, wonder and anger. Harry falls for Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright); Ron gets a devoted but irritating girlfriend; and Hermione is pursued by a popular boy while pining for the oblivious Ron. It helps for us to understand these characters as real people so that we’ll care when they end up in mortal danger.

Ron and Hermione are pretty much out of mortal danger in this movie, though; their big moments are relegated to making out or playing Quidditch, while Harry teams up with Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to pry secrets from new professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) about his time teaching young Voldemort (played in flashbacks by Ralph Fiennes’ nephew, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin). Broadbent, new to the series, gives an extremely entertaining performance as the addled but troubled Slughorn, who provides a vital piece of information that pushes the overarching story forward.

The last half-hour or so finally kicks the plot into gear, with the amusing romantic misadventures replaced by a deadly serious mission for Harry and Dumbledore, leading to a decidedly downbeat ending. It sets up some high stakes for the big finish, but on its own still feels like it’s just getting started by the time the credits roll.

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