The sixth entry in the Harry Potter series brings back some of the humor and awkward teenage romance of the underrated Goblet of Fire as well as the solving-a-mystery gimmick of the first three Potter films. Which is my way of saying that, having recently seen it for a second time, I didn't much care for the fifth Potter film, the joyless Order of the Phoenix, in which not much happened and yet the story still felt rushed and perfunctory.
I realize that there are many out there who are impressed with that film, but I am not one of them - and as a result, I didn't have much faith in director David Yates, the least experienced of all the helmers in the Harry Potter franchise. I was surprised to learn that Yates was tapped to direct the final four Potter films (including the two-part Deathly Hallows finale) and assumed that this was because he wasn't a big enough director to go off and get work elsewhere, and was just enough of a hack to do the studio's bidding without raising a fuss.
Happily, Yates has learned a lot from his previous film, and Half-Blood Prince is better paced and carries more emotional resonance. (Without spoiling anything, the major character death in Half-Blood Prince is given the weight and tragedy that it requires. But even so, Mike Newell's handling of the death of a fairly minor character at the end of Goblet of Fire was far more effective - a reminder that J.K. Rowling's source material is enhanced by a director with a strong vision.) The cast also gets to do a bit more real acting, and they all seem to be having a great time.
There is a sadness in Half-Blood Prince, not just because of its tragic finale but because we now know that there will be no more school uniforms, no more eccentric teachers, no more Quidditch matches, no more Hogwarts. The innocence has been lost and what lies ahead is deadly serious. So Half-Blood Prince's moments of warmth and levity leave a bittersweet taste. Though it doesn't stand up to Prisoner of Azkaban or even Goblet of Fire in terms of imaginative filmmaking, this is a likable movie that I would be happy to watch again. Above all, it makes me feel confident that Yates won't drop the ball when it's time to wrap up this epic saga of the beloved boy wizard.