‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ Is an Improvement in Some Areas, But a Step Back in Others

I’ve never been overly impressed with the Harry Potter movies.  Granted, I don’t think that they are bad movies, they’ve just never been of much interest to me.  Certainly, I can understand the appeal that these movies would have on youngsters but it’s had little effect on me.  I sort of liked The Sorcerer’s Stone and then I liked The Chamber of Secrets a little more.  Now we’ve got Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before us and, I’m sorry to say, the weakest entry in the Harry Potter series.

Harry and his friends have gotten a little older and are entering that delightful age of puberty when hormones bubble out of control and blossoming teenagers go out of their rabid minds.  Harry, living with a family who treats him like dirt, has become an angry young man – even resorting to turning an annoying aunt into a fat hot air balloon and watching her drift away.  In his defense, who hasn’t wanted to do that every now and then? I have an entire side of the family I’d like to do that to!

After reuniting with his classmates, Harry learns that a dangerous criminal named Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban Prison and wants to kill Potter.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, he’s where the Prisoner of Azkaban comes in.  There are some surprises and revelations that I won’t spoil for you, but let’s just say that the whole storyline gets painfully and predictably complicated.

There are also the subplots… These death-looking things called Dementors are prowling Hogwarts looking for Black but will suck the soul out of anyone who gets in their way… so they are a little safer than your average mall security guard.  Hagrid – the lovable giant – has become a teacher and his class on monsters goes awry when Buckbeak, a half-eagle half-horse thing injures Malfoy, the little bastard from the first two movies, and has to be put down.  There’s also a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher named Professor Lupus who takes a creepy interest in Harry, but thankfully we later learn that it’s because he knew Harry’s parents. 

There’s also a werewolf…  Yeah, take a wild guess as to who it is.

It’s been a while since we last had a Harry Potter adventure.  Chris Columbus has left the directorial helm to Alfonso Cuarón, the director of Y tu Mamá También, who has streamlined the Harry Potter-verse into a more mainstream animal.  The Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t meander meaninglessly like the first two films did, but rather marches foreword with a purpose.  In many ways, this is a vast improvement, but in others… not much so.  A lot of The Prisoner of Azkaban feels jerky and switching between scenes is jarring.  Watching this movie, you almost feel as though Cuarón has attention deficit disorder.

The cast of Harry Potter has aged and, thus, so has the maturity of the story.  The third entry into this series is darker and scarier.  Not a bad thing in my book, but one must wonder if it’s gone a little too dark.  You’ve got two relatively happy movies, and then this angst-ridden serious chapter… it just feels out of place.

Michael Gambon has taken over the role of Professor Dumbeldore after Richard Harris made the poor career choice of dying.  I gotta say, Gambon is no Richard Harris.  Gambon phones in his performance without a tenth of the charisma that Harris brought to the role.  Dumbledore has a reduced role in this story and for that, I thank God.  Never too late to give Ian McKellan a call, you know.

All in all, this is the weakest of the Harry Potter movies but, like the others it’s not really that bad.  Just frustratingly ordinary… but it’s an ordinary movie that has no business being ordinary at all.  This movie didn’t fill me with awe and didn’t really engage me at any level. 

The kids may eat this up, but I could either take it or leave it.   It’s just not my cup of tea.

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