Review in a Hurry: Ominous things are afoot as Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But it's all the snogging—along with a thickening plot, great performances and killer effects—that makes this sixth installment one of the best.
The Bigger Picture: An early scene with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) flirting with a Muggle in London sets the tone: The kid wizards have more on their minds than that buzz kill Voldemort. And that's a good thing.
After the rather hurried Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this newest installment is tempered, more assured and relaxed. It's the closest the films have come to feeling like we're just hangin' out with our favorite trio—Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint—and it's a little bit magical.
But even with a longer running time, terrific effects and great dollops of humor and emotion, Half-Blood Prince still feels overstuffed.
Headmaster and grand pooh-bah wizard Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) tells Harry he must befriend the new potions teacher at Hogwarts, Professor Slughorn (a touching Jim Broadbent). See, Big D has been collecting the memories of young He Who Must Not Be Named, hoping to find a way to defeat the Dark Lord.
And when li'l Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, nephew of Ralph Fiennes, who plays the adult Riddle), was attending Hogwarts, Slughorn had a revealing conversation with him.
Can Harry piece together the clues? And can he use his magical superstar status for more than just free butterbeers?
Incidentally, with Slughorn now teaching potions, what will dear old Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman) do? At long last, he has claimed the cursed "defense against the dark arts" post. This is good for Snape, bad for Harry and terrific for Potter fans who know this marks the beginning of the end for the series. While Half-Blood Prince might be book six, it feels like part one of what will be the series' three-part finale. (The final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be adapted into two films in 2010 and 2011.)
For now, though, Prince treats viewers to superb effects work, haunting art direction and great casting. Once again, Rickman seems to do so much with little screen time. And it's been a joy to see Radcliffe, Grint and Watson grow up before our eyes. To that end, there's plenty of teen angst and romantic subplots here. Their hormonal struggles for happiness are heartfelt and oftentimes hilarious.
The 180—a Second Opinion: This is a very touchy-feely Potter flick, though never quite One Tree Wizard. Those looking for everything you need to know about the Dark Lord should read the book instead. Or again.
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