The fourth installment of the popular J.K. Rowling creation sees 14-year old Harry thrown into the prestigious “Tri-Wizard Tournament” during his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. While competing against representatives of two rival academies in these dangerous events, Harry must contend with a mysterious new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (yes, another one), sinister, prophetic dreams about his parents’ killer Lord Voldemort, and most frightening of all… raging teenage hormones.
Overall, this is a solid entry to the series, and while it’s not as inventive or well-paced as Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban, it definitely earns points for kicking up the intensity and danger factor. The three main leads, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) all continue to offer solid work with their characters as they deal with the difficulties of puberty. They don’t go through quite the emotional or physical transformations they did in Prisoner, but they still get better as actors with every film.
The adults, as always, are spectacular. Newcomer Brendan Gleeson’s performance as Professor “Mad-Eye” Moody is scary, mysterious, and has just the right amount of mischievous humor needed for the character. Miranda Richardson shines as the scheming, unscrupulous tabloid reporter Rita Skeeter. Ralph Fiennes, who hasn’t been around much lately, is absolutely terrifying under prosthetic makeup as the Dark Lord Voldemort. Alan Rickman (Snape), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), continue to impress in their ongoing roles.
The three set-pieces of the Tri-Wizard tournament are fantastic, with the dragon challenge being particularly exhilarating. The special effects team, who were much-maligned for their CGI work on the original Harry Potter movie The Sorcerer’s Stone, turn in some spectacular work here with horrifying, fire-breathing dragons, creepy Mer-people, and graceful winged horses. .
Now, having said that, I have concerns that the studio is going to get cold feet and demand a return to the sunnier, golden color pallette of the first two Potter pictures, which were under the direction of Chris Columbus. The Potter franchise is already under the gun and taking enormous heat from the conservative religious right for its so-called “promotion of witchcraft and anti-Christian practices”, and this chapter of the saga is certainly not going to help matters. Hopefully, though, Warner Brothers will continue to take risks with talented directors like Mike Newell and push the envelope with these films. The books get darker and more intense as the children age, so it’s only logical that the films follow this progression.