The Harry Potter franchise gets its sixth film adaptation next week, and early buzz on the wizarding saga is… fantastically fresh! As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Co. experience the first tremors of teenage love — and all the hormonal shifts that come with puberty, (Hog)warts and all — the battle between good and evil is also heating up. Can Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and returning helmer David Yates withstand the series’ growing pains? By the looks of things, Half-Blood Prince not only might maintain the franchise’s track record of Certified Freshness, it may also conjure up the best reviews of the entire series. As a wizard might say, “Merlin’s Beard!”
As critics continue to chime in with reviews of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a quick glance at the early Tomatometer not only shows that initial reactions are overwhelmingly positive, but also that they indicate that Certified Fresh status might be right around the corner. (A film needs a minimum of 40 reviews counted, at least five of them by Top Critics, for Certified Fresh consideration.) Half-Blood Prince would land in very good company; all five of its movie predecessors have earned the Certified Fresh distinction:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), 78%
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), 82%
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), 89%
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), 88%
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), 77%
But what exactly are the critics saying about Half-Blood Prince? Read on for a survey of Tomatometer reviews so far.
IT’S GORGEOUS: Thanks to director David Yates, director of photography Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie), and composer Nicholas Hooper (who also worked with director Yates on Order of the Phoenix), Half-Blood Prince has a technically gorgeous look and feel.
“Among the always outstanding production values and top-drawer visual effects, special note should be made of series newcomer Bruno Delbonnel’s exceptionally atmospheric cinematography and Nicholas Hooper’s emotionally churning score, which contains only the slightest trace of John Williams’ original themes.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety
“Not only has [Yates] made the film look gorgeous, but he has a much surer grip on the special effects, deploying them in the service of big set pieces that actually flow with the rhythms of the story, as well as a better understanding of what his younger cast can do.” — Alistair Harkness, Scotsman
THE HARRY POTTER KIDS ARE GROWING UP: Teenage life brings not only heightened dangers for Harry, but much darker themes, following J.K. Rowling’s increasingly mature books. Death, loss, longing, and love — along with plenty of make-out sessions, thanks to the hormones raging at Hogwarts — making this an appropriately more adult, if still PG-rated, affair.
“Half-Blood Prince feels like the most grown-up Potter film yet when it comes to the menace of the bad guys. They’re everywhere, and they’re casually evil. While the death of Cedric Diggory in Goblet of Fire was a stunner, Half-Blood Prince carries a constant presence of malice, and it feels like any kid could be killed at any moment.” — Devin Faraci, CHUD
ON THE ACTION, OR LACK THEREOF: Writer Steve Kloves has excised at will from Rowling’s source material, omitting at least one major showdown from his script. The result: fewer set pieces, although critics note that the few that are included are thrilling.
“There are surprisingly few action sequences … But those there are – a chase in the corn between Harry and the Death Eaters, the scene in a forbidding cave where Harry and Dumbledore seek to unravel Voldemort’s secrets – crackle with a chilling sense of threat.” — Sarah Crompton, Telegraph UK
RUNTIME, SHMUNTIME: At two hours and 33 minutes long, Half-Blood Prince is a real bladder tester. But with so few set pieces, can plot development and movie magic keep things clipping along?
“Despite its 153-minute running time, Yates’s film proceeds at a cracking pace.” — Nick Curtis, Evening Standard
“By the time we get back to the actual plot, almost two hours have passed, and by then, you might have completely given up on caring who the titular “half-blood prince” is. That makes it the first time in the series you really start feeling the movie’s length before the two-hour mark due to the amount of needless filler.” — Edward Douglas, Coming Soon
THE CAST: DOES SOMEBODY SMELL OSCAR? Harry Potter‘s central trio of young actors have developed serious chops throughout the series, and seem to only get better as they age. Critics also love Half-Blood Prince‘s supporting cast of returning and new players, including some of the British Isles’ best thespians. One new addition in particular has some critics already predicting Oscar buzz.
“If this were any movie but part six of a series, I’d say [Jim] Broadbent does ‘Best Supporting Actor’ level work here. It’s a master class in how to make the most of every moment onscreen without ever once overpowering the film around him.” – Drew McWeeny, HitFix.com
IS HALF-BLOOD PRINCE ONE OF THE BEST HARRY POTTER FILMS YET? Director Yates is also at the helm for the final two Harry Potter films, The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 and 2, and has set up Half-Blood Prince as an effective precursor to the coming conclusion of the series. That many critics count Half-Blood Prince among the series’ best bodes well for its final film chapters.
“A comfortable second in IGN’s opinion, the depth and scale of the drama raising it above the level of the one-dimensional early films, and the sensitivity with which these heavy themes are handled a marked improvement on the more callous Order of the Phoenix. It doesn’t reach the magical heights of Alfonso Cuaron’s truly spellbinding Prisoner of Azkaban, but Yates is fast approaching that territory, which bodes well for his helming of the final instalments.” — Chris Tilly, IGN UK
“We can already sense the two-part seventh and final saga on the horizon, and the whole less-frenzied affair is tonally and emotionally suggestive of a post-battle re-grouping before a final cinematic assault.” — Wally Hammond, Time Out
Read more early reviews of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which debuts worldwide on July 15. To revisit all five previous Harry Potter films in advance of Half-Blood Prince, watch along with our Editor in Chief, Matt Atchity, as he Deconstructs Harry, one film a day.