This sixth installment in J.K. Rowling’s series begins ominously with storm clouds roiling over London while Death Eaters wreak destruction, terrifying onlookers and destroying Millennium Bridge. As Voldemort’s power increases, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore is understandably alarmed, using Harry’s reputation as the “Chosen One” to lure a retired Potions professor, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) back to Hogwarts.
Many years earlier, Slughorn taught young Tom Riddle (a.k.a. Voldemort – and played by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Ralph Fiennes’ nephew) and he may know how and why the mysterious youngster evolved into the Dark Lord. While Harry’s arduous quest is clear, the element of peril increases, personified by sneering Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) under the sinister ‘protection’ of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman).
Meanwhile, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are on hormone overload. Harry’s infatuated with Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) who’s “snogging” someone else, while Hermione’s keen on Ron, now a Quidditch hero under the spell of a coquettish classmate. “Oh, to be young and feel love’s keen sting,” muses Dumbledore as jealousy, betrayal and rivalries abound.
Adapted by screenwriter Steve Kloves and directed by David Yates, it pulls together previous plot strands like a good detective story, and it’s gratifying to see how the wide-eyed, precocious innocents of “Sorcerer’s Stone” have grown into savvy teenagers. Daniel Radcliffe still weaves amazing magic, while Emma Watson is brilliant and Rupert Grint is amusing, backed by stalwart veterans including Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Warwick Davis and Helena Bonham Carter.
Like adventure classics of children’s literature – from the “Oz” novels to “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” – J.K. Rowlings has created an exquisitely detailed, completely credible realm of enchantment as background for this compelling coming-of-age, good vs. evil fable. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is a harrowing, suspenseful 7. While we’re still wild about Harry, this basically sets the stage for Rowling’s seventh – and final – book which will be divided into two different movies.