Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): It wasn’t half as good as it could’ve been

Rating: 2 stars (out of 4)

I didn’t like the sixth Harry Potter movie. I really expected to; I’m an apologist for the series, and David Yates’ effort before this was my favorite yet. Unfortunately, Half Blood Prince let me down. I’m here to tell you why it got way too much positive press from critics and viewers everywhere.

But before I start ripping into it, let me compliment the parts of the movie I loved:  its incredible – almost naturalistic – visual style, the best acting in the series yet, and a surprising amount of comedy. It’s easily the funniest Harry Potter yet. And the movie, at its core, is an interesting story that I’m very attached to. Overall, though, there’s just too little payoff to make this a rewarding film.

On to the complaints…

Like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it took a second viewing for me to really decide how I felt about this Harry Potter movie. This time, though, the result was less favorable.

Most of my complaints stem from two major problems: The film doesn’t take the time to 1) understand evil or 2) give us much meaningful romantic payoff. I’ll discuss these two complaints separately.

Side note: Notice how I work hard to separate my feelings from the book and the movie; I’m attempting to avoid an error often made by those evaluating adaptations. I expect the film to be “different” from the book, I just hope it will turn into a compelling film.

Major complaint 1: The movie doesn’t care about its bad guys.

One reason I like the fifth movie so much is we really get a sense of what makes the two bad guys (Umbridge, Voldy) tick, and we can compare this to our heroes. Voldemort is attempting to take over Harry’s mind, Umbridge is villifying everything Harry loves, and it forces Harry to question what the line between good and bad really is.

But in the sixth movie, we’re not given much insight into the villains, even with a few revelations at the end. Why is Draco skulking around and plotting bad things? Why are the Death Eaters flying around blowing stuff up? What are their goals and their motivations? Nothing gave me a good grasp on the danger the characters were in.

There was ripe potential for the film to dig deep into the mind of Voldmort for the heroes (and viewers). The writers could easily have developed great insight into Voldemort’s descent and compared it to the decisions the current Hogwarts students had to make, but it’s not there. Chalk it up as a missed opportunity. The professors just keep saying “he was a kid here like you students, but he turned EVIL.” Fine, then. Show us how or why, make us care and compare it to the characters we know and love after 14 hrs of movies.

What bothers me is how much emphasis was placed on the love triangles. It’s not that the characters’ raging hormones and love triangles aren’t compelling. It’s just that they’re not nearly as compelling as the over-riding saga and rising villain which are given a short deal here. Love is a big part of these characters’ lives, but what makes this series special is its balance between the conflict in the characters’ relationships and the conflict in the overall saga, good vs. evil.

Major complaint 2: The romances are pathetic and overcooked.

The Harry-Ginny romance doesn’t seem to happen for much of a reason. Sure, Harry lists some of the things he likes about her at one point, but we’re never given a reason to feel their pull together. You never feel them really growing towards each other except for a few nice moments. Nothing substantial.

Compare that to how excellently Order of the Phoenix portrayed the rise and fall of the Harry-Cho romance, and it makes this one feel a bit empty. I’m hoping the seventh/eighth films dig into it a bit more and really makes me care about the two as a couple. Because, for now, I feel like the filmmakers are telling me to want them together without really giving me a reason.

The Ron and Hermione situation is treated more organically, but the execution is bungled. There’s just too much, with not enough payoff. The bickering drags on and on. You’d think with all of the setup this movie and the last, there’d be a big payoff scene or something, especially after the last two movie had so much build up to it. I guess this is a romantic cliffhanger and we’ll get a good moment later. I still wish there was a bit more resolution this movie.

Here’s hoping Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is rights these wrongs.

Dan and Brian from Earn This now have a film review site and podcast:

The Goods: Film Reviews

The Goods: A Film Podcast

Available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and more.

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