8 films spanning 10 years and creating a worldwide phenomenon, here is our review of the entire Harry Potter franchise.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone
A master in world-building, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ captures the magic from its source material and delivers with exciting, spellbinding results.
One of the most impressive components about this film and, the franchise as a whole, is the cast. While no performance is extremely captivating, each cast member seems perfectly suited for their role. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson get together nicely and establish chemistry that will guide the entire franchise. The screenplay is often under-paced which often breaks flow but its meaning is incredibly endearing and above all – fun.
The film still holds up (somewhat) visually as it is clear that this film would’ve been a breakthrough for VFX. What’s even more impressive is its production design. The design of Hogwarts – imitating English cathedrals in a grandeur fashion, to, building an entire street for the Diagon Alley sequence. The master, John Williams, composes another fitting musical theme that instantly became iconic. Every technical aspect has brilliant synergy and helps elevate the tone of the film.
This film sets up an exciting franchise through impressive world-building, charismatic cast and magical tone.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ expands its universe while continuing to indulge the audience deepening the lore, magic and wonder of what is and what is to come, even if the pace is a bit circuitous.
The golden trio (Radcliffe, Grint & Watson) dive deeper in their roles, instantly demonstrating confidence and stronger comradery as a group. Arguably, one of the weaker entries in the ‘Harry Potter’ series as it stretches out two hours of storytelling to an extensive amount of exposition. This film is the longest in the series (161/174 [extended version] minutes) despite being the one of the shorter books, for no good reason. The screenplay has really great moments to shine as it captures the imagination and creativity of J.K. Rowling’s writing.
The VFX in this entry are greatly improved upon by integrating heavy practical and visual effects together. The film still holds up to today’s current CGI standards by holding an importance on practical effects. Production design in these films continue to be jaw-dropping as we are introduced to impressive new locations. The Chamber of Secrets location is the most impressive with the snake heads for pillars and the statue being Salazar Slytherin’s head. The sound design is equally impressive establishing an impressive soundscape strengthening the film’s atmosphere.
Clunky direction pacing at an almost tortuous rate is salvaged from spectacular VFX spectacle, charming performances and a welcome expansion to its wondrous, magical world.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Four-time Oscar winner – Alfonso Cuarón gives us a masterpiece in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ by twisting the series into a darker territory while keeping the magic alive.
The golden trio (Radcliffe, Watson & Grint) are older and naturally, feel more matured in this film as they tackle darker themes. ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ stands above every film in the franchise from its narrative complexity to its technical artistry. ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ serves as a turning point for the series as Cuarón guides the atmospheric tone of the film towards something eerily creepy and petrifying. The film also has a refreshing change of pace consistently pushing the story forward or building character. The narrative is far more complex, emotionally captivating and rooted in character.
The cinematography throughout the film is gorgeous – implementing moody lighting to enhance its rich, intense atmosphere. Cinematographer captures seemingly impossible shots as the camera moves through a mirror or all the clogs of a clock. The visual effects are still as strong as the previous films with excellent sequences with the ‘Knight Bus’ or the fantastic design of the now-iconic ‘Dementors’. The set-design allows for more expansion of Hogwarts with impressive sets such as the ‘Shrieking Shack’ and ‘Hogsmeade’. The Academy-Award nominated score is the finest of John Williams work in the series – capturing and elevating tone.
‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ may very well stand as one of the greatest fantasy films of all-time and that status all flows through Cuarón’s excellent and disciplined direction.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Diving deeper into more mature themes, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ successfully shows us that like the real world, consequences get more severe as you get older – even in the Wizarding World.
‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is a very significant film in the series as it dictates what the tone will be like until the final few minutes of the entire franchise. The golden trio (Radcliffe, Watson & Grint) provide naturalistic performances as their characters bear more earnest and sombre emotions. Featuring many story changes from the novel which are often debated by die-hard fans, ‘Goblet of Fire’ still delivers in its world-building, its emotional beats and still manages to be as magical as its predecessors. The film starts off as another exciting adventure film but falls down a slippery slope to becoming a paranoid-thriller. This allows the emergence of the dark wizard who has subtly lurked in the shadows which is highly elevated by Ralph Fiennes portrayal that can only be described as imposing villainy.
The film lacks the visual flair of the previous films and especially Cuarón’s visual tour-de-force. Visual effects still are up to the blockbuster standard but cinematography and lighting aren’t given much attention to until the last act occurs. This film excels best in its art direction which it was rightfully nominated for at the Academy Awards. The large scope of the film allows for creativity to flow through new set-designs that are often detailed and cleverly expanding the established universe. Patrick Doyle takes over the composition from John Williams which still proves to be strong using the original musical cues while injecting his own flavour.
This film serves as an emotionally satisfying end to the kid-friendly, magical era and an exciting beginning to a frightening, and matured portion of the series.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ cements its rightful place in the franchise – even if it is the slowest and disjointed entry yet.
Harry feels detached and alone from the world and therefore, this film feels the least magical as David Yates direction often lacks magnetism and charm as the exposition-over-action dulls its screenplay. For instance, the beginning of the film has a 20-minute segment with Harry on trial that doesn’t push the plot nor does it really expand his character – delaying time and ultimately, dismisses the rich subtext in Rowling’s novel. Sirius Black’s death is handled quite delicately and the emotion that flows through that moment can be attributed to Radcliffe’s performance. Undoubtedly his best performance yet, as he digs deeper into his character and hits all the beats earnestly. Sadly, this leaves Watson and Grint with little to do as their characters are temporarily shunted to the side. Imelda Staunton (Dolares Umbridge) impressively portrays the politically-involved character who is corrupted with the notion of ethnic cleansing (Pure bloods versus Half-bloods or Muggle-born). Yes, we have seen these villainous characters before, but Umbridge believes she is so morally clean and pure – this makes the character extremely frustrating to the audience. It is obvious that this was David Yates first feature film but credit is due for entering a highly reputable and popular franchise to adapt the longest book in the series with good success.
Visual effects are still an industry high at the time of its release and are in full spectacle during the erratic and grand battle between Dumbledore and he who cannot be named. Set-design is held to an incredible standard in this film by using classical architecture plastered in ceramic tile as the backdrop for the Ministry of Magic is fantastic. Umbridge’s bright pink office covered in plates of moving cats characterizes the twisted and deluded demeanor of the character.
David Yates directs a film devoid of magic, swamped with plot detail, a great exploration into the psyche of Harry and somehow, keeps the audience excited for what’s to come.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ has its matured characters learning that love is the one spell they cannot control. While also, fine-tuning its subtext that serves the broader narrative – delivering a nice blend between style and substance.
Sluggish pacing demonstrates a lack of urgency in this penultimate film. ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ serves as a bridge towards the final chapter of this series, fleshing out plot points as we head to the climax. The golden trio all play their parts competently and are confident in their matured characters – Rupert Grint’s performance is one of his best in the series. Michael Gambon provides a compelling performance in Dumbledore as we say farewell to the character. This film achieves a lot in its 153 minute runtime – except one critical component, its pace. A film this long dragging as much as it does only affects how much the audience can enjoy the viewing experience. This is frustrating as the film’s romances are rushed and feels offbeat – which deserved more minutes to flesh these out important pieces. David Yates achieves an extremely dark, atmospherical experience that blends nicely into its mystery-thriller narrative. ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ has its light-hearted moments that still offer magic, whimsy and wonder that don’t diminish the dramatic aspects. This film cements our understanding of this world – that there are stakes in the Wizarding World that can and will inflict physical and emotional pain on these characters.
‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ is one of the best shot films in the entire series. Impressively shot by Bruno Delbonnel, the film is composed of moody browns and metallic hues that beautifully complement the film’s tone. Art direction (as usual) is equally as breathtaking as it has ever been – seriously, Bellatrix destroying the great hall windows while Nicholas Hooper’s thumping score plays is emotionally saddening.
David Yates improves his technical direction creating a rich, dark, and matured atmosphere without ever losing touch of its magic.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Serving as a prelude for the grand finale of the boy wizard saga, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ drops out of Hogwarts and into a greater world – a welcomed change of tone.
‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ novel was split into two parts as Rowling’s rich text was far too dense to adapt in one film. While we believe this to be essential, it also slows down the momentum the other films have generated. This film cannot decide whether to establish its own identity or merey be a placeholder for what is to come. The golden trio (Radcliffe, Watson & Grint) are required to play more subtle emotions as this film plays down its action to show the intimate relationship between them. After the last couple of films, it feels as if the three core characters are a tad isolated – to bring them back to the focus allows the film to become more emotionally complex. Considering this film is 146 minutes long, it had plenty of time to establish itself beyond just being a placeholder for Part 2 – which ultimately, it fails in. An appreciated aspect of this film is having a Harry Potter film set outside Hogwarts, it feels odd at first (almost not like a Harry Potter film) but it’s refreshing nonetheless.
David Yates technical direction continues to improve as we are graced with another well-shot Harry Potter film. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra complements Yate’s direction by reinforcing the tone and adapting to the constant changing landscape. Godric’s Hollow and Malfoy Manor are some superb set-designs that operate around some of the stunning locations featured in this film. Alexandre Desplat’s subtle and elegant score elevates feelings of despair and frustration.
David Yates fails to make ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’ its own film but serves up an intimate and tense, competently-made film that leaves us wanting more.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
A beautiful finale to a decade long journey, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ closes its franchise exploring moral complexity showing that we all have darkness in us, and we can conquer it.
Game of Thrones. The Matrix. Spider-Man. How I Met Your Mother. Indiana Jones. Lost. Do you see the common theme here? Films/TV series that were held in high regard, only to be stained by their lackluster ending. Filmic endings are more than just the end, they are the final impression on the viewer and is the beginning of how we perceive the franchise once it is over. The ending is the most crucial point in any TV series or Film franchise lifespan – as it is the section of the story that gives the entire narrative meaning. It allows the overarching theme of the entire narrative to materialize into action. The ending in Harry Potter’s case? Results in the franchise becoming a timeless classic in modern cinema. ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ allows the primary theme of the entire Harry Potter story to be at the forefront of its storytelling – love. This theme jump-started the franchise in Lily Potter’s sacrifice and is present in this film through many forms. Severus Snape’s love for Lily Potter helps him change where his allegiance lies and redeems his character. Narcissa Malfoy lied to Voldemort about Harry being dead out of love for her son. Harry Potter learns he holds Voldemort’s horcrux and out of love, decides to sacrifice his life to save everyone else. Harry’s and Voldemort’s similarities and connection is often highlighted throughout the series but love is what separates them. Ultimately, the virtue of love is what allows Harry and his loved ones to overcome the evil of Voldemort and his army. David Yates strikes a skillful balance between thrilling action, poignancy, nostalgia, gentleness and a touch of humour. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (The golden trio) are the glue that keep this franchise together and you can only appreciate how fantastic and perfectly suited they are for their roles. Let’s be clear. Is this the most well-made Harry Potter film? No. Does this Harry Potter film have the best writing? No. Is this Harry Potter film featuring the best technical attributes? No. That doesn’t matter. That’s the brilliance of this ending – narratively it is a fitting end and emotionally it is 100% satisfying. ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ makes sure that the journey was meaningful, and the result is an overwhelming emotional experience – a catharsis. It is unlikely we will ever see a franchise of this magnitude, handled with such tender, love and care for a long time to come. A truly rare achievement in Hollywood.
The film is supported by excellent technical direction. Visually thrilling set-pieces are at the forefront of this film and that allows for some grandeur imagery. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography represents a dementor’s cold touch as characters fall in despair but hints towards a touch of hope. As Voldemort and Harry grew weaker in life, the camera got closer. As the story became more kinetic, the camera was static and the image was crisp. Alexandre Desplat returns again with a thrilling score that complements the tone of the film and elevating emotions. An overwhelming sense of emotion can be felt particularly in the ‘19 Years Later’ sequence with the original theme on full blast as the final frame fades to black.
Harry Potter has taken us on a journey for over a decade and ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ gives meaning to the journey and grants it a noteworthy legacy. A perfect send-off to the story that has captured the hearts of so many people.
One thought on “A MovieGainz review of the entire Harry Potter franchise”