Harry Goes Scary

The Prisoner of Azkaban takes a Sirius-ly dark turn

But there's still plenty of time for the old favorites. Robbie Coltrane is always dependable as the half-giant Hagrid, and Alan Rickman's brooding Snape is a joy once more, making even lines as simple as, "Turn to page three hundred and ninety-four" drip with such overblown menace as to crack up the audience at the preview screening. As Harry's best friend Ron, Rupert Grint has finally had his voice break, but he's not a lot of use, unless you consider infinite utterances of the word "brilliant" to be useful. There are hints dropped to a future potential romance with Hermione (Emma Watson), which can only be because she needs someone helpless to take care of.

As for Harry himself (Daniel Radcliffe), let's just say it's a shame that Star Wars: Episode III has wrapped principal photography, because Hayden Christensen could learn a lot from young Radcliffe's portrayal of adolescent angst meeting magical fury. Unfortunately perennial rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) gets short shrift this time, losing all his menace and becoming, to put it bluntly, a whiny little bitch. Then again, the bullying Lavinia in A Little Princess barely figured in that movie either -- maybe Cuarón just can't relate to such characters.

In the Harry Potter film series thus far, The Sorcerer's Stone remains the strongest, perhaps because the first look at any rich new world is almost always going to be more groundbreaking than its sequels. But Prisoner of Azkaban is a worthy and stylistically different followup, where Chamber of Secrets often felt like an unimaginative retread. Haven't read the next two books in the series yet, but here's hoping that they avoid the running cliché of the Scooby-Doo scene that all three films rely on, in which the one character who isn't who you think he is gets found in some heretofore undiscovered room, where he proceeds to explain the entire plot so far to Harry and us. It was cool the first time because the character in question had a monster face growing out of the back of his head, but it's getting old as a narrative device. Blame Rowling, but Kloves and Cuarón so deftly rearrange other parts of the story that it really stands out when they fall ever-so-slightly short.

Magic's riddle of free will and determination fighting 
social responsibility never grows old as a film story
Magic's riddle of free will and determination fighting social responsibility never grows old as a film story

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