Where did it all go so wrong? The sense of magic that all previous directors of the series managed so well is gone here. Director David Yates produces a dull, flat, muted affair, a model he’d stridently follow for the rest of the series, which he was inexplicably hired for.
The fifth entry in the series is one of the more interesting books, and very much the longest. It explores the increasing angst of the teenage characters, as well as the uncomfortably dark atmosphere the series’ world has found itself in, in all sorts of interesting situations and interactions. It’s overlong, but there was plenty of good content to be mined in there for a movie. It’s mostly ignored, as Yates regresses the series to adapting straight plot elements and dialogues while ignoring the larger and more important aspects of the respective book, such as the atmosphere, the tone, and the character’s individual arcs.
Still, the premise is strong enough that the movie is hardly a failure. It’s just a disappointment. Imelda Staunton drives the most compelling part of the film, the insufferable Professor Umbridge’s oppressive reign. I’d love to say the younger cast do equally admirable work, but they don’t. Whether it’s their fault, or Yates’ for not driving appropriate performances out of them, I couldn’t say, but I most certainly can say that they largely fail to communicate compelling and appropriate reactions to the unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in for this instalment. I mean that in an in-story way, the reign of Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic, not a metatextual way referring to Yates. Though I’m tempted.
There’s nothing to really say about the visuals of the film. They’re pedestrian. The adult cast does strong work at least, Michael Gambon shedding the bizarre affectations he put on in the previous film, instead delivering a compelling performance as Headmaster Dumbledore, much as he did in the third film. Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, and Maggie Smith are as strong as ever. Gary Oldman is even stronger, giving his best performance of the series.
It’s not a truly terrible film, but a very disappointing one, especially coming after the two best entries in the series. I give it two sickles, and a knut.