As we come to this fourth entry in the popular saga, we’re pretty familiar and comfortable with the cast as we watch them grow up before our eyes. This time around a Quidditch World Championship introduces proceedings and it’s here we see the world that J K Rowling has created open up as we’re introduced to several rival schools and a few new characters. Add to this a prestigious Triwizard tournament that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) gets unwittingly thrown into and we have a rather eventful entry.
Along the way there’s some rather luke-warm melodrama, with a spat between Harry and best friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) feeling forced and some romantic stuff with Hermoine (Emma Watson) that moves away from what seemed to be a blossoming romance with Ron previously. However the several trials of the Triwizard tournament are exciting, with a brilliant dragon encounter as well as a tense underwater sequence. Yet once we realise there’s a return of an old enemy on the cards, it becomes clear this is more of an in-between movie readying up for bigger things (hopefully). Performances across the board vary in quality, with Radcliffe not really developing much more personality as these movies progress. Rupert Grint’s Ron is also a bit more mopey and less fun than previous. Robbie Coltrane is disappointingly side-lined this time but this is made up for by an enjoyable Brendan Gleeson and snarling David Tennant. Less said about Robert (Twilight) Pattinson’s appearance the better though.
This was all still entertaining, and that final act is wonderfully tense and surprisingly scary. Production values throughout are also impressive. However a rather stretched out, unfocused story lets the side down and isn’t helped by poor character moments that fail to be all that compelling. I have a feeling though from here on out it’s going to get pretty dramatic.
I was a little apprehensive going into this third instalment after not really liking The Chamber of Secrets. However this time around we’re presented with a more fully realised narrative that thankfully isn’t borrowing too much from earlier movies and has it’s own thing going on. Harry continues to be mistreated by his uncle and aunt and chooses to run away from home one night until an enchanted (triple) decker bus arrives to whisk him back to Hogwarts. Harry soon learns that a dangerous former wizard and convicted killer has escaped from the prison of Azkaban and is rumoured to be heading to the wizarding school.
Like the first movie, there’s a clear atmosphere of magic and wonder at play and here the world feels like it’s really opening up and developing it’s ideas. Add a great cast now including David Thewlis as a newly appointed professor and again great turns from Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith and I was quickly put at ease. The backdrop of the escaped prisoner as well as some spectral demons called in to help protect the school created a welcome sense of dread. Daniel Radcliffe this time around seemed strangely laid back for the first half of the movie, not reacting all that convincingly to a series of you’d think scary and alarming encounters … but he comes out of his shell eventually. A nicer surprise was a stronger focus on Emma Watson’s Hermione who is now more confident, less arrogant, and Rupert Grint’s Ron continues to be great fun. Yet I’m still not that interested in pantomime bully Draco Malfoy despite Tom Felton growing more into his role.
Aesthetically gorgeous throughout with much more stylish cinematography and a greater emphasis on actual learning to be a wizard, lessons etc. and some fun ideas including a magical map and a griffin bird creature … made this entertaining from beginning to end. The final act is also superb with some inventive twists. Gary Oldman’s Sirious Black is decent and despite being recast, Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore may possibly be even better than the late Richard Harris. On this evidence, what comes next is going to have it’s work cut out to top this one.
Young student-wizard Harry Potter finds his imminent second term at Hogwarts overshadowed by the news that a horrible scheme is afoot, when an Elf tries to prevent him attending school. However despite the continued reluctance of his mean aunt and uncle, Harry is quickly rescued by best friend Ron Weasley. Yet upon arrival at Hogwarts a series of strange goings on revolving around a mysterious ‘chamber of secrets’ has everyone on edge and fearing an old evil has returned.
This second outing of the fantasy franchise finds Daniel Radcliffe and co settling into their roles with what appears to be a bit more confidence to their performances (with an improved Emma Watson). The who-dunnit plot is at first intriguing but plods along rather slowly, making unnecessary room for various disposable sequences. The plot here seems somewhat padded out, like the movie was struggling for material and tries to over-complicate a simple storyline just to extend the running time. Also compared to the sheer magical ‘wonder’ and energy of The Philosopher’s Stone, the budget here felt rolled back with some god-awful green-screen (Qwiditch) and considerably less flair to the cinematography. Also unlike the last movie this world is now established, so I was hoping for a gripping narrative, which despite best efforts, the movie failed to deliver, even ushering in some blatant deja-vu in the final act.
With that said we get a fun appearance from Kenneth Branagh and performances across the board are all decent (with a stand-out Rupert Grint as Ron). The opening flying car sequence, a brief wizard-off and a chase involving an army of spiders were good fun too. I like these characters and the world they inhabit, but for me this second instalment felt like a concept running out of ideas when it has only just begun. Here’s hoping what follows is an improvement or I may not make it all the way to the end!
I finally did it. I watched a Harry Potter movie after years of declaring it wasn’t my thing. But really, what self respecting movie fan can hold his head up amongst other movie critics without watching this much admired and acclaimed franchise? Over the next few weeks I thoroughly intend to pass judgement over all eight movies … but for now I’ll let you know my thoughts on the very first.
Harry is a young boy who is given to his aunt and uncle when a baby, following the untimely death of his parents. His aunt & uncle however are cruel and unloving towards him as he grows up and fuss and gush over his cousin instead. Yet one day a letter arrives declaring that young Harry has been accepted into the wizarding school of Hogwarts. So Harry is soon whisked off into a fantasy world of goblins, witches and magic that will change his life forever.
Despite my years of reluctance I’ll admit I was very quickly absorbed in author J K Rowling’s world and certainly admire the wealth of imagination and sheer ‘wonder’ on display. Think a cross between Tim Burton, C S Lewis and Roald Dahl. I was also impressed to discover a who’s who of British acting talent, from Dame Maggie Smith, John Hurt, the late Alan Rickman and especially a wonderfully cast Robbie Coltrane. It also has to be said this is a gorgeous looking movie that despite being over fifteen years old now, hasn’t aged and with high production values that include superb set design and for the most part, quality CGI … I came away rather impressed. The plot is mostly an introduction to the world of Harry Potter and perfectly sets up the movies to come and I certainly enjoyed the whole school term structure and learning to be a wizard thing. Harry for the most part is a bit of a celebrity throughout and mainly carries the story by being at the centre of different situations rather than being all that heroic or skilled as a wizard (at this stage).
Some of the child acting leaves a bit to be desired however, especially a young Emma Watson who’s delivery of lines and general personality screams of trying a bit too hard. I’m sure she improves though. Yet Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry is quite the discovery – occasionally a bit uneasy with some lines and situations but really makes the character his own and is likable and generally convincing. A climactic encounter let’s the side down a tad, with a dodgy CGI sequence. Also, with a majority of the run time focusing on setting up such a world, the ending felt a bit rushed and forced-feel good. But I still had a great time with this and feel a bit silly for missing out all these years. Roll on Harry Potter 2.
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