New director. New direction?
In the third Harry Potter film we have Alfonso Cuaron take over the directing duties. Unfortunately, Cuaron will not return to the franchise after this entry. Here lies part of the problem with the Potter films as a whole—different directors mean different visions. The tone and feel of the movies simply cannot be consistent.
Another issue hurting this movie is the tragic death of Richard Harris, meaning Michael Gambon must take over the role of Albus Dumbledore. Gambon does well, but the change in actor is unfortunate, and means that Gambon must prove himself late in the game.
So, new director, new Dumbledore, new feel? Not really. Cuaron seems to be trying to bridge the feel of Columbus while projecting the series into its darker future. Some of the issues are starting to be corrected, but they are still present. For instance, we are out of the stupid Dursley section of the narrative faster, but it is still slapstick.
What the point of these opening vignettes is meant to be is eluding me. It seems they want to argue that all muggles are monsters, but as we have seen now, a lot of wizards are, too. At best, these scenes are filler. At worst, they are undermining an important aspect of the narrative—and the importance of escapist fiction.
The film is louder this time around. Potter’s bus trip to the wizarding world is absurd, noisy, and at least moderately entertaining. One should note the syphilitic look of the bus worker, because apparently blue collar workers must be disfigured. (Not like the audience has seen magic fix much worse afflictions already…)
My biggest praise and biggest criticism of the film are linked in an interesting way. The limits of magic are still not known, and this film seems to show that there is no possible limit. Why there would be any social strife is beyond me. Everyone can conjure everything they want.
However, the magic seems to permeate all aspects of life in this one in a better way. The scenes of the kids just being kids and playing with magic made the world seem more alive. Cuaron is better at allowing certain scenes to simply exist as character building, and this is desperately needed in these movies. Resident moron-villain Draco Malfoy proves his wickedness once again by being a babyish tattle-tale, and what exactly his role is meant to be is not entirely clear. He’s a weak bully, poor villain, flat character, and overall waste of space. It seems the only purpose he can possibly serve it to counterbalance the overt worship most students seem to throw on Potter.
Another welcome addition is Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) who appears to be the first actual teacher to be in Hogwarts. Aside from being an educator, Lupin becomes a mentor and friend to Harry. Through these scenes we can actually see Harry develop as a character—it only took three movies to get to this point! Unfortunately, because this narrative wants to add and remove characters for cheap dramatic thrills this relationship will not last. Enjoy these moments here, because they will not appear again this earnestly in the entire series.
The meat of the story is another mystery, and while you probably won’t see the twists coming you will certainly know there are twists ahead (if that makes any sense). Of course audiences couldn’t predict how it all go down because the narrative throws time travel into the mix at the last moment. Don’t worry though, they never bring it up again. (And no, the BS explanation behind this in the books is not satisfactory). Rewriting the rules halfway through does not make a story good—it only proves the author would rather pull the rug out from under you rather than provide a well encapsulated story.
The series is becoming increasingly reliant on episodic catastrophes. Our characters will make some gains only to have things go awry in the next scene. By the time Lupin becomes a werewolf you will want to shout at your screen. Of course things must go wrong—it is the only way to keep the action going. These cheap needs for short-term excitement really dicks up the future of the story. Wow, Harry could have a decent father figure and a good teacher—nope, better have Sirius Black still a criminal and have Lupin leave so we can shovel in quirkier and underwritten characters in the next entry.
The entire narrative is reliant on a series of stupid people making stupid decisions so teens can manipulate their surroundings for success. I think Gambon does a good job as Dumbledore, but leaving the safety of innocents to a couple children is a pretty fucking stupid move.
Here in lies the problem: the movie is enjoyable as you watch it, but once you pull on any of the dozens of loose threads it all unravels. The suspense and intrigue is built on sloppy and cheap foundations that are becoming increasingly easy to see. To enjoy this movie, I think you have to watch it and then not think about it at all. 5/10.