Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)–**1/2

So the old saying goes, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” With J.K. Rowling’s book series now complete and most audiences at least tangentially aware of the ending, it’s more important than ever for a Harry Potter film to pay heed to that timeless wisdom. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does not.

While the world—both Wizarding and non-Wizarding—is falling apart outside the walls of a heavily guarded Hogwarts, young wizards and witches are still going to class. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who in the previous films faced ridicule for warning that Lord Voldemort was back, is now being called the chosen one. He’s the only wizard who can take down the most powerful dark wizard of all time. But he still has to pass Potions.

When Potter picks up a well-worn Potions text book, he discovers that someone called the Half-Blood Prince has filled in the volume with instructions for creating perfect potions. Potter’s teacher, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), assumes that the chosen one is also a potions prodigy. Slughorn quickly takes a shine to the young wizard, hoping to add Potter to his collection of those most-likely-to-succeed students. That’s okay with Potter because, as he’s been told by Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), somewhere in Slughorn’s memory is the key to defeating Voldemort.

Of course, Potter is still a 16-year-old kid, one who’s dealing with his crush on his friend Ron’s (Rupert Grint) little sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright), while fending off other girls armed with love potions. He’s also a shoulder to cry on for his other friend Hermoine (Emma Watson) when she sees Ron off snogging with another girl.

Watching Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson in this sixth Potter film, you can see how far they’ve come as actors. They’re convincing in their heartache even if they do too closely resemble John Hughes characters with little concern outside of their teenage cocoons. Only Wright, who hasn’t had the screen training her costars have had, struggles to connect.

Broadbent, as Slughorn, is a joy. His whimsical quirk bring some magic to a film that generally lacks it. Just as the other players who’ve taken on the role of the newest Hogwarts professor in previous films, Broadbent dives into the part and has a ball. And we feel it to.

Yet, the film, which follows two harrowing, action-packed Potter adventures, lack both the urgency and the peril to justify the story. Out are the Ministry of Magic and Cornelius Fudge, who used the word “war” to describe the unseen events in the book. In is a rather unimpressive and unexplained pedestrian bridge collapse in London, which is perpetrated by followers of Voldemort and only briefly mentioned in Rowling’s text.

The bridge collapse takes place in the beginning of the film and is followed by two solid hours of non-action. While startlingly photographed by Bruno Delbonnel (new to the franchise), a few moments of insular suspense can’t make us feel the darkness that is lurking outside of Hogwarts. Once the darkness makes its way inside, it’s too little too late to save the picture.

I don’t envy the job that writer Steve Kloves and director David Yates have trying to piece together a solid picture from the myriad events in Rowling’s hefty novel. But Kloves and Yates should know by now that it’s the magic and adventure, not the meager sketches of characters, that propel this story forward. Without both, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is too uneventful for an event movie.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, and directed by David Yates, is in theaters now.

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