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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.11 2023.02.21|
|Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore||Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban||Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 2|
The first Fantastic Beasts film is a compelling mix of both the whimsy in the earliest Harry Potter films and the darker tones if the later ones. It misses a trick by neither highlighting Gellert Grindelwald as the main villain nor thoroughly establishing who he is and why he is doing what he does in this film. Nevertheless, the joy of this film is that it presents an entirely new world, or aspect of the Wizarding World, that has only been hinted at in the Harry Potter movies and novels. One thing this movie gets absolutely right is the setting: New York in the roaring 20's. Obviously liberties are taken as a whole new magical underworld has been added to it. However, it gets things like the era's attitudes right—such as the Prohibition Era-echoing ban on American wizards having any contact with "No-Majs", and how that is counter to and conflicts with European attitudes.
The highlight of the film is the casting: Eddie Redmayne (Newt), Katherine Waterston (Tina), Dan Folger (Jacob), and Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein) share a chemistry that is so compelling that you can't wait until the next film—almost to the extent that the plot is irrelevant! Nevertheless, the film provides just enough hints and suggestions about the direction that the rest of the series will take, and—like a good aperitif—it has whetted our appetite for what is bound to more plot intensive and darker chapters in the subsequent films. That said, while there are some darker sequences, the overall tone of this first Fantastic Beasts adventure is lighthearted, and in many ways the world building is something to be savoured before the series invariably starts focusing more on plot than just letting the characters exist in the setting.
If that synopsis of the first third of the movie sounds complicated, then it is rightly so. This movie is far too complicated than it should be, with too much exposition and world-building, and not enough focus on the main points of both this film and the overall Fantastic Beasts series. Perhaps the greatest flaw is that the film goes to great lengths to keep the four protagonists separated. They are arguably the best thing about the first film, and this film pales in comparison as it goes out of its way to keep them apart. The best parts of the film are the opening sequences—Grindelwald's daring escape and Dumbledore's recruitment of Newt in the foggy streets of London while avoiding the Ministry agent watching Newt. However, the film quickly begins losing focus as it bloats the story with more and more characters and unnecessary drama. By the time the fiery conclusion rolls around, there is hardly any feeling of suspense or concern as the film has become so convoluted that it has become a chore to keep track of who is doing what, why, and to whom.
The film has excellent production values. It further embellishes the greater Wizarding World world while also introducing us to new aspects of it, and also redefining characters and family lineages from the Harry Potter series for better or worse. The only flaw in the film is that it reenvisions Nagini as a human permanently caught in a snake's body—which ends up raising uncomfortable questions about 'her' interactions with Harry and Hermione in the penultimate film. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, the film does answer a lot of questions that it and its predecessor brought up. It also does a good job of setting up the coming confrontation between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in the third film. It's just a shame that it never lets either Jacob and Queenie or Newt and Tina (or all four of them!) just exist, spending time happily together.
Secrets of Dumbledore continues the trend introduced in The Crimes of Grindelwald of focusing mostly on the plot, and not so much on the characters; to the point where it can get a bit confusing about who is aligned with who, and what their motivations are. The film is all the more disappointing because the magical creatures—arguably the justification for this film series—take a back seat and hardly make an appearance. It is a shame, because a lot of the wonder and 'magic' of the first film stems directly from those creatures, and the mysteries contained in Newt's magical suitcase. Lastly, Katherine Waterston's character Tina Goldstein is absent for the majority of the film, further eroding the characterization. In some ways, this film only true comes alive and recaptures the magic of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in the coda, when Tina briefly shows up and we get a taste of the chemistry between the four leads from the first film.
On the other hand, while it is regrettable that Johnny Depp couldn't return, recasting Gellert Grindelwald with Mads Mikkelsen was an inspired choice. There's a je ne sais quoi richness about Mikkelsen that adds immensely to the subtext and mannerisms of Grindelwald. Intriguingly, it sees a third actor stepping into the roll. One wonders if we'll see a new actor playing the part if they ever make a fourth Fantastic Beasts film. While this film does provide a measure of closure, it also leaves a number of dangling plot threads. The conclusion of many of those can be inferred from the Harry Potter series. However, it would be disappointing if this were the last Fantastic Beasts film, and we never get to see the parings of Newt–Tina and Queenie–Jacob in happier times, let alone what happens next for them and the great changes to magical society that this film suggests are starting to happen in its coda.
The first movie in this wonderful series is mostly about Harry's journey into a new world, setting up that world, and Harry making a new family out of the people he meets and friends he makes. While there is an overarching plot, it generally keeps to itself, and the adventures that Harry, Ron, and Hermoine get mixed up in almost appear episodic. It's to the betterment of the film that the production team opted to let the plot noodle along while they focus on the characters, and the mysteries inherent to the Hogwarts castle—which ought to be considered a character in itself, with all its unique characteristics and hidden secrets!
One of the joys of this film is that it gets better on repeat viewings. Not only has it reproduced the world of the novels with all its splendid details, there are clues, signs and other neat rewards for those that have finished the film series and are watching it again from the beginning. It's almost like one sees the film like a child on the first viewing, and—after watching the entire series—we see things from the perspective of adults, with things taking on new or deep significance from our experience and knowledge. The highlight of the film is its masterful recapturing of the innocence of youth, and the youthful wonder when we are introduced to entirely new worlds. This is a gem of a film, as one can't help imagining what it'd be like to be living inside it, and using the magical powers of its protagonists and antagonists.
Where Philosopher's Stone was more interested in showing the magical side of magic and the building of Harry's new family, Chamber of Secrets is more interested in plot. As such, the film has a tendency to drag at times, as it approaches the plot the same way it was done in the first movie. Perhaps due to that or because this is the second outing, a bit of the lustre of the magical world is lost. The film also takes a sharp turn into the darker aspects of the Wizarding World. While it is refreshing that the dark things that go bump in the night are things to be feared—unlike how the first movie treated them—it may be too intense for younger viewers expecting more of the same. Nevertheless, the slow-burner plot does eventually pay off in spades, and the antagonists this time get their well-deserved comeuppances.
One of the joys of this film, and the series overall, is seeing the young boys and girls growing up. While some of the child actors may only have bit parts or what amounts to cameos in this film, minor characters that are highlighted in later films are present, and it is heartwarming to see the same actors in the same roles in these earlier films. While its less saccharine as the first film, family is still a constant theme, and it is heartwarming and powerful in the more limited doses in this film. Harry is also given a more heroic portrayal this time, as he is allowed to vocalize his opinions. Perhaps the most telling line in the film is Dumbledore's "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities", which underscores Harry's true strength. If anything, this film highlights how great an actor Daniel Radcliffe has become in his portrayal of the titular character. This film can't be missed, as it sets up some key themes and concepts that are vital in the later films.
The third film in the series marks a large change in the film series. Not only is there a rearrangement of the Hogwarts Castle and its grounds, there is a greater emphasis on the visual presentation of the film. In short, the scale has increased, and the visual effects are crisper and more dynamic. Michael Gambon steps into the Dumbledore role, as Richard Harris had sadly died shortly before the release of The Chamber of Secrets. Gambon brings a different energy to the role and the film series overall—less reflective and weighed by past experience, and more secretive and plotting with his own agenda.
The highlight of the film is the time travel. This is one of few, rare films that gets it just right—in the sense that events are not being rewritten the second time through, and we're seeing the exact same events unfolding from a different perspective. The film also feels shorter, presumably because there's more emphasis on the story and on building suspense, and it meanders less than the preceding two films. The trade off is that there is less time spent embellishing 'magic' in everyday life, and the day-to-day of being schooled in magic. This film is also rewarding for those who have read the novels or seen all the films in the series. There are plenty of Easter eggs for viewers who are in the know. Voldemort doesn't appear in this film, however his influence is inescapable. And while there are plenty of payoffs, this film is also busy laying the groundwork for developments in the subsequent films. Can't be missed!
The Goblet of Fire is pretty much all business right from the start. There are few flourishes or diversions into areas that round out the magical world or show the wonder and, well, magic of learning magic. Instead, the film focuses on 5 or 6 key events in the school year, and spends most of its time on them. In a weird way, the film feels longer than The Prisoner of Azkaban, but inversely covers less ground. Nevertheless, Dir. Newell works in his own touches, such as the running joke of Hogwarts's caretaker Argus Filch always misreading Dumbledore's cues.
This film also takes the series into quite dark territory, starting with the murder of an innocent bystander just moments after the opening credits finish. The most gruesome sequence—as well as the climax and highlight of the film—takes place near the end in a graveyard with an impossible turn of events. One wonders how Harry even survives until they recall that his opponent had just been revived and wasn't operating anywhere near their full strength. Overall, The Goblet of Fire concerns itself with asking more questions and setting up latter events in the film series, and doesn't bother with most of the overarching questions. While it answers the immediate questions concerning the school year's events, one gets the sense that they cut a little too much out of the novel when they adapted it into a film. Nevertheless, the film builds on the visual style of The Prisoner of Azkaban, and Dir. Newell's vision of duelling magicians is truly a must see!
Order of the Phoenix continues the franchise's turn into the darker side of the Harry Potter world. There are few, if any, frivolous touches that showcase the more lighthearted aspects of the magical world. Things are more grim, with Harry and friends facing Umbridge, perhaps the most vile antagonist in the Harry Potter world—where Voldemort would kill you once he's finished with you, Umbridge will scar you for life with a magic quill that cuts what you write into your own skin! However, most troubling of all is that Harry is taking on some of Voldemort's traits, and Dumbledore is doing his utmost to avoid Harry. The latter is a worrisome development, as Dumbledore has become a father figure for Harry.
The highlight of the film is that it is content at being the chapter where most things are being set up in the background, out of site of the protagonists. While life goes on and the Ministry of Magic interferes with Hogwarts, one gets a strong sense that both Voldemort and Dumbledore are quietly and steadily building their respective armies. We get some clues—the most spectacular being Bellatrix Lestrange's explosive release from Azkaban prison—but the focus is squarely on Harry and the other students trying to make sense of it all, and doing what they can to prepare for the coming storm. When the storm breaks, we are in for a treat that eclipses the duelling wizards that concluded The Goblet of Fire. However, like all good dark, middle chapters, there is also a great loss in this film. As it comes suddenly and unexpectedly, it is all the more shocking. And makes the film all that much better.
The Half Blood Prince is like all good penultimate films: it takes the story into truly dark places, giving thrills and chills along the way, and ending on a note that offers a glimmer of hope. Even though Voldemort doesn't appear, his influence is felt everywhere, starting with the bold kidnapping of Garrick Ollivander from his store and the destruction of the Millennium Bridge (in London), to a truly shocking, unexpected death in the film's climax. Along the way, we are presented with a conflicted Draco, who is at once proud that he has been given such an important mission by Voldemort, but also finds it morally reprehensible and isn't fully willing to complete it—the problem being that he can't fail, as an even darker fate awaits him if he fails Voldemort.
The film is also filled with lighthearted moments as Harry and friends interact with the almost bumbling peculiarities of Professor Slughorn. He is well meaning, but is self-serving and has a tendency to ignore students whom he deems unimportant—the others, whom he 'collects' into his Slug Club, are either well-connected or are greatly talented. We also have Ron getting swooped up in a romance with Lavender Brown, much to Hermione's chagrin, and Harry falling in love with Ginny Weasley. However, the highlight is the astounding glimpses into Severus Snape. He is a very complicated character placed in a truly complex situation being forced to do impossible things. Where he was initially portrayed as an antagonist and a thorn in Harry's side in the initial films, this film paints him in an altogether different light. In many ways, this is a film about people in difficult situations having to make difficult, and sometimes painful choices, with the hope that it'll all work out in the end.
Deathly Hallows Part 1 is unlike any Harry Potter film to date. For starters, the film is set everywhere but Hogwarts, and classes in magic are a distant memory. While we revisit a few familiar places—such as the Weasley's and Sirius's homes—most of the film has the protagonists on the run. It's also a frustration filled mystery, as Dumbledore has given Harry the impossible task of hunting down and destroying the Horcruxes without telling him what and where they are, nor even how to destroy them! This is the darkest chapter in the series, as the protagonists are so far removed from friends, family, and support that their friendship is tested to the breaking point. At the same time, Voldemort's forces go on the offensive with constant 'disappearances' and attacks occurring in the background.
In the midst of all that, the film asks who Dumbledore really was, and it is subtly suggested that Harry was manipulated by Dumbledore into accepting the task of hunting Horcruxes. Nevertheless, the highlight is the resourcefulness of the protagonists, which helps them get out of the expected and unexpected predicament that they face one after another—though they don't necessarily come out scratch free! They are truly chewed up and spit out on their road-trip through the unbeaten paths and the wilderness they hide out in. They also get help from allies and friends that pop up in unexpected places. This penultimate chapter in the series, though dark, also marks a major turning point, as we get the sense that Harry and friends finally start to unravel the clues that Dumbledore left them to help them in their mission.
If Part 1 is a slow-burn road movie, Part 2 is anything but. It picks up right were Part 1 ends, and continues the theme of revisiting the famous places in the Harry Potter series. This time, after a brief adventure in Diagon Alley, it brings us full circle back to Hogwarts and its environs—which makes it feel like a "true" Harry Potter film. Along the way, we are introduced to the final four Horcruxes and their hidden locations, as well as Aberforth Dumbledore; Albus Dumbledore's younger brother.
Aberforth is full of revelations that paint Albus in an entirely new light, and casts some serious doubts on his hidden true agenda behind the task he had given Harry. This leads directly into the most emotionally powerful sequence in the series that underscores Harry's heroism—intriguingly it is the decision to do or not do something, and not the action itself.
The highlight of the film, however, is the further revelations of Snape, and his true motivations. Rowlings "a gift of a character" description is an understatement, and adds immensely to the poignancy of this final film, while also recasting all of Snape's actions in the preceding films in a new light—to the point of wanting to rewatch them all to catch the subtle ques Alan Rickman gave us in his performance. If you've watched any of the Harry Potter films, this film cannot be missed.