Police Academy 6: City Under Siege notwithstanding, it's hard to recollect any other film franchise that has progressed with such strength and fluidity as the Harry Potter films at the sixth stage of the game.
Granted, not that there are many film series that progress beyond the trilogy, but even most films that reach for number three tend to either bloat to the point of overload (Pirates of the Caribbean) or confound with own self-importance (The Matrix).
The Potter films are also exceptional in that they have encapsulated and charted every stage of their young stars' journeys from adolescence to young adulthood, to adulthood with what appears to be nary a arrest record, TMZ expose, or painkiller addiction in the lot.
But I digress. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is yet another superlative installment in a franchise marked by its peaks. The most magical thing about this entry is the fact that it a) essentially serves as a bridge to the final Deathly Hollows chapter, and b) the magic and wonder are now so commonplace, the emphasis is primarily on its charters.
And just as author J.K. Rowling has created such a sturdy, enchanting trio of heroes, the films themselves have been populated with the UK's finest lending their talents in all the surrounding roles, which is no different in “Prince.”
The usual stalwarts — Alan Rickman returning as the seething, serpentine Professor Snape, Maggie Smith as the prim Professor McGonagall, Helena Bonham Carter as the bewitching Beatrix Lestrange, Michael Gambon as wizened wizard Dumbledore, and Robbie Coltrane as gentle giant Hagrid – continue to cement their cinematic legacy. And if that list alone was not one to guarantee quality artistry, Jim Broadbent enters the fray as the reluctant Professor Horace Slughorn, tasked with tying the past (he was the chief influence of a young Voldermort) to the future, as Harry's new sage potions master.
But these are all bit players, as the main stage is one again shared by Rupert Grint as Ron Wesley, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger and Dainel Radcliffe, no longer the boy wizard Harry Potter. Each one is given heavier issues, meatier roles and challenging circumstances, to which they meet with poise, subtlety and chops that only years under the tutelage of the other esteemed actors could bring them.
Hermione is fighting her very adult urges for Ron, himself in a relationship and Quiddich star. Ron, meanwhile, seems to sense the inevitable parting of ways the group will soon face when (or if) they all graduate from Hogwarts. And Harry studies Voldermont's origins for the inevitable battle he shall face,come to terms with the loss of a dear friend, as well as dealing with his own attraction to Ron's younger sister, who is no longer just a little girl.
This was by far the most difficult film in the franchise, as it merely sets the stage for the conclusion, a relatively thankless task, but director Peter Yates still gives everything a sense of urgency, and despite the ever-present feeling of despair in the air, allows for moments of great levity and honest interaction between the leads who dance the line between youth and adulthood.
The test of its success was echoed in the sentiments of an exiting theatergoer, who was overheard uttering, “This sucks. I have to wait two years to see this all wrap-up.”
I'm no fortune teller, but with this cast, this author, and this director, something tells me that while it may not live up to Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow, the final “Potter” films will all be well worth the wait.