For avid fans of the Harry Potter books, this movie may be yet another disappointment. It leaves out too many details and gets much of the mythology wrong; but when viewed as a movie series, the latest installment of this now mighty movie franchise is a marked improvement over many of its predecessors. In fact, it is the second best movie of the franchise, bettered only by Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but not without being made to wait for such a long time since the series began its cinematic life 8 years ago.
In their sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter and friends finally come of age - at least where romance in involved. For Harry Potter though, being the "Chosen One" of this series, the more pressing issue is dealing with the never-dying Dark Lord Voldemort, who despite all his might, magic and minions, is unable to get to the boy. Dumbledore finally discovers a key that could lead to the Dark Lord's demise. Amidst a murdering arch-nemesis, an ominous book that belongs to a certain Half-Blood Prince and a desperately desolate Draco, Harry Potter finds true love. Sort of.
For those who have read and reread the book, try leaving behind the notion that the books and the movies exist in the same fictional universe - they don't. The movies, over time, have defined a set of rules that make them differ markedly from the books. In keeping with these rules, character behaviors and some events are changed. Accepting this hard fact, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince manages to both entertain and intrigue - something that had by now become a rare expectation from this series. David Yates' strength is comedy, and it is in the humorous moments (and they are aplenty) when the movie really shines. To Rupert Grint's Ron Weasely this trait comes naturally, and the director makes full use of his talent for the humorous interludes. Playing this off against the more serious moments and action sequences, Yates keeps the story moving, although the jarring editing deprives the film of any sense of proper transition.
Of the young cast, Tom Felton does a commendable job of playing a troubled teen. His Draco Malfoy is also a "Chosen One", but in his case, by the Dark Lord for a malicious task that will devastate him if he succeeds and destroy him if he doesn't. Daniel Radcliffe plays his comic bits quite well too, but otherwise looks as wooden as his wand. You would think playing the same character for 8 years straight would have taught him something. Emma Watson on the other hand, finally sheds most of her overacting spikes for a decent performance, especially when her Hermione Granger has to cope with boisterous flirting from a minor character. Alan Rickman sneers his way through a small role that could have been better exploited by the writers - Professor Snape is a very interesting character from the books, perhaps the favorite of many. Alan Rickman's Snape knows this, but the director and his writer don't. Fortunately, Michael Gambon saves most of the serious portions with his wonderful performance. Possibly with the release of the last book - which delves deeper into Dumbledore's past - Gambon's understanding of the character has aided him, and this shows. He brings Dumbledore's wit and charm into his portrayal that makes him, after some three movies, loveable.
The Harry Potter movies have a thing for the melodramatic and Half-Blood Prince doesn't disappoint there. Much of the theatricality is lost due to the varying degrees of thespian experience and the ineptitude of the director. Logical (and magical) loopholes are plenty, but expect these to be fiercely defended by followers of the mythology. Ultimately, delivering only half the goodies of what is perhaps J. K. Rowling's best book ends up being just good enough for a decent movie.
My rating --> 3.5 of 5