There’s no rhyme or reason to the merits of a Harry Potter film, no easily applied evaluative equation along the lines of “every even-numbered Star Trek” or “only the Sean Connery Bonds.” It’s a franchise that’s often as awkward as its adolescent wizard protagonists Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), though even by that standard, this ploddingly dull sixth installment is something of a series nadir.
Initially, director David Yates builds off the fleet-footed imagery of the terrific fifth film, Order of the Phoenix, showing a bruised and beaten Harry assaulted by paparazzi flashbulbs. Yates then segues into a late-night tte--tte between the bespectacled chosen one and a subway caf waitress, a memorably melancholy encounter that’s intruded upon by exposition-bearing Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Gambon).
It’s all downhill from there, save for the introduction of scatterbrained potions professor Horace Slughorn (an excellent Jim Broadbent) and a few hilarious, sexually tinged fan-service gags. (Personal favorite: Dumbledore asking to borrow a girlie mag because he loves looking at “the knitting patterns.”) As in other, lesser Potter films, pretty much everything else feels perfunctory, though this is the first time the principals seem as if they’re entirely going through the motions.
Radcliffe, in particular, comes off bored and distant, more hitting the marks than baring the soul. This is especially unfortunate given Half-Blood Prince’s game-changing climax, which screenwriter Steve Kloves has significantly and detrimentally reduced from J.K. Rowling’s source novel. What should be a near-apocalyptic free-for-all instead plays as a half-baked, throat-clearing placeholder for the upcoming two-part finale, Deathly Hallows. Here’s hoping for a last-act rebound.—Keith Uhlich
See also “Can’t stop the music”