Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Directed by David Yates
...And the Half-Blood Prince? More like and the Hot-Blooded Teens. The latest installment of the sorcerer septology-turned-octology is packed with disgruntled exes, jilted lovers and bourgeoning couples: hormonal wiz-kids playing out their soap operas with the help of spells, potions and come-hither stares. In the very first scene, Potter (Daniel "We've All Seen Your Dingle Now" Radcliffe) picks up his waitress in a café. It's standard Y.A. school-corridor romance, but a lot of the Potter franchise is derivative; this entry nods to no less than Batman, Superman II, Vertigo, The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, The New Testament, The Lord of the Rings and The Legend of Zelda. The new Potter is familiar, predictable — by mid-film, you could make a quick checklist of the dangling plot points that'll need to be cleared up before we're excused — but all archetypal fantasies are basically the same. That's what makes them popular.
What makes this film actually good, though, is its despairing tone; crumbling infrastructure (too soon!), dead birds, shadowy, smoky interiors: it all evokes a grim and gothic Tim Burton-ness (as does Helena Bonham Carter flittering around the margins.) This being a Harry Potter movie, the horny high schoolers' amorous machinations of course give way to an epic battle between primal forces of Good and Evil. And director David Yates doesn't hold back, even if there are wee-'uns in the audience. Potter will fail, a major character will die, dozens of Descent-like creatures will drag our growing wizard into a deep lake and tie their arms around his throat. And though the film ends at dawn, literally and (groan) symbolically, the path there is maturely tragic and unsettling. This is the Potter series' Empire Strikes Back, its On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Then it closes with Potter's friend-without-benefits Hermione (Emma Watson) assuring him his blossoming romance will pan out. Uh, girl, his friend just died?
Opens July 15