No recap. No amusingly horrifying opening appetizer at the Dursley’s house. No intriguing Diagon Alley detours. Someone shouts at Harry to hold on and he is whooshed into his next adventure as we are whooshed along with him.
It turns out he’s been told to grab on to what looks like a boot, but what is in reality a “portkey,” an ordinary object enchanted so that anyone who touches it will be transported to another location. And Harry and the Weasleys have been transported to a huge open field that is the site of the Quidditch World Cup. Harry ducks to walk inside the modest little tent, only to stand up inside and gaze around at a spacious and inviting space inside. “I love magic,” he says happily. And we know just how he feels.
Young orphaned Harry Potter is thrilled to find himself at the World Cup just as is about to begin his fourth year at Hogwarts boarding school for witches and wizards. But the wizarding equivalent of a terrorist attack shuts everything down. And since Harry was found at the scene of the crime, some suspect he may have had something to do with it.
As headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) says, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right…and what is easy.” Harry knows that his old foe Voldemort is getting stronger and nearer. Of course, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, one Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson). Hogwarts plays host to a sort of inter-mural Iron Man competition, as three schools each nominate one candidate for the biggest competition of all, the Tri-Wizard Tournament. And Harry, now 14 years old, is having some very troubling feelings about one special girl named Cho Chang (Katie Leung).
Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enchanted April) manages to bring off something of a tri-athletic feat himself. He creates a sense of seamless continuity with the three previous films (the first two directed by Chris Columbus, the third by Alfonso Cuaron) while bringing his own sensibility to the story. The young actors and their characters, too, seem to be evolving right on schedule, fully inhabiting their characters. Newell gets lovely, open performances from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (best friend Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (smartest girl in school Hermione). And he expertly makes the smallest moment of adolescent longing as vivid and meaningful as the WOW-worthy special effects.
And WOW-worthy they are from the stunning arena for the World Cup to the torture of an insect in Mad-Eye’s demonstration of the three unforgiveable curses.
There’s a carriage drawn by winged horses that brings the lovely jeune filles of Beauxbatons and a three-masted ship that rises from the depths of the sea carrying the competitors from Durmstrang to the tournament. There’s a mermaid, and a visit with Moaning Myrtle, the ghost in the bathroom. There’s a reporter with a voice as skritchy as her quill pen that writes by itself. There are four fire-breathing dragons. There’s a ball to attend, if one can get up the courage to invite a date, and there are the dates one didn’t ask in time, for one to glare at hotly and say things one instantly regrets.
The first of the supersized Harry books posed a challenge to any adaptation that you could watch without packing a lunch and your pajamas. But they’ve done a marvelous job of packing in a lot of detail and richness while keeping the story moving straight ahead. If we miss seeing the this year’s affront to the Dursleys and spending more time with old friends and foes like Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Malfoy, and Hagrid, it is only a reflection of Harry’s stage of life, with his friends becoming the more prominent focus.
As Harry gets older and the stories get more complex and intricate, hints of themes from earlier chapters becoming deeper and more resonant, the series is becoming one of the most reliably satisfying in modern movie history. And that’s what magic feels like.
Parents should know that as in the books, Harry’s adventures and reactions become more complex and his challenges become more dangerous, the series has moved from a PG rating (albeit one that was right up at the edge of a PG-13) to a full-on PG-13. The bad guys are scarier, both in looks and in the threat they pose. There is a great deal of intense peril and some scary monsters. An important character is killed and the movie, even more than the book, makes you feel how searing a loss that is.Characters use brief strong language (“bloody hell,” “piss off”) and there is some very mild adolescent romance (a crush, concerns about who is going to ask whom to the dance and the jealous consequences thereof).
Families who see this movie should talk about how Harry, Ron, and Hermione are beginning to relate to each other differently as they get older.
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the rest of the Harry Potter series. The books that inspired them have much more detail and are great fun to read, alone or aloud. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Willow, Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride.