"The best of the series, fairly easily."
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a worthy and well paced seis-quel. At times moody, at times jovial, it's a balanced affair that routinely delivers entertainment in the form of flawless visuals and peppy dialogue. I really dug it. I think it's the best of the series, fairly easily, and a testament to why occasionally throwing a massive budget at an endeavor of this scope can be considered a reasonable decision.
The film opens with a moody orchestral bit; we're transported to the land of Hogwarts and Muggles. Death Eaters are spiriting through the realm, leaving a wide swath of destruction in their wake. Dumbledore finds Harry Potter. He needs his help. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Of course, the strength of the Potter series has never been the opening gambit, has it? The usual gang is back together and the complementary characters (Luna, Ginny, Cormac) provide as much comedy as the mains (Harry, Hermione, Ron) do comfort. Alan Rickman's Snape remains positively sublime, he's able to do more with a blank stare than most actors do in their entire careers. An overarching sense of weirdness and magic pervades the entire movie ... or precisely what you'd prescribe for a series like Harry Potter.
The only negative is a slight ding for length (but honestly, better 2.5 hours here than 90 minutes of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and an even slighter ding for not actually standing as a singular film. If you're not familiar with the books or previous films I imagine you'd be lost. The film seems be of the persuasion that you're either one of the couple hundred million people who've already gotten on board or you can't possibly be brought up to speed quickly enough. I tend to agree, though the film is getting that minus portion of the grade because aliens from space wouldn't know what to make of this movie sans context.
For the attaboy portion, director David Yates must be called to the front of the classroom and lauded. His touch here is deft, there are so many well conceived and executed shots and scenes packed into the running time. A moment in particular that sticks out comes near the beginning of the film as the Weasley household gradually becomes aware that Harry Potter is coming for a visit. Yates shoots upward, toward four levels of stairs, and lets Ron, Ginny, Hermione, and Ma Weasley pop out like whack-a-moles, each with a line of dialogue. It's at once charming and effective, bringing individual personality to the front while servicing the story as a whole. Well played.
I think fans of the series will be pleased. Yes, it is a dark film, without question, but there are also numerous moments of frivolity to lend levity. It's about friendship, hope, first love, evil, and magic -- and it's all wrapped into a fantastical epic narrative. For lack of a better word, it's a very graceful effort. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a difficult film to dislike, as care and concern has been injected into every millisecond of this stylish blockbuster. There's a moment in the film where Potter and the gang wonder aloud how they always manage to get themselves into such convoluted predicaments. As an audience, we can only be grateful that they continually do.