Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004) Review

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The most overrated movie in the franchise gives us a clear focus and trajectory towards the future of the franchise. The Prisoner of Azkaban brings on Academy Award winning director Alfonso Curón as the director to lead the franchise into a new direction. For many people out there, this movie is their favorite and what they believe to be the best movie in the franchise. In my other reviews of the previous two movies I talked about how I group up watching them along with the Star Wars prequels and how I had seen them many times over as a kid. This was the last of the movies that I watched numerous times before finally getting to see one in theatres. This one has always been one that I liked, but was never my favorite of the franchise. Before going into my rewatch I did some research into what other people thought and for the most part I came to the conclusion that many think of this as the best and their favorite. At first it caught me off guard because I wasn’t expecting it. I thought maybe there was something I missed or maybe it’s just the inclusion of the quality director. This time going into it, I may have gone in slightly more critical, but definitely from a different perspective than what I had before. Of course I went in with a blank slate in my mind, but I wanted to see if maybe I had been wrong the whole time I’m not liking it as much as others. 

When we start off we immediately get a look at our older Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. The older look of course is from the studio wanting him to look older and deciding to skip a year before releasing this film. It’s a different approach than why they did with the first two films and step in the right direction for taking the franchise in a more mature direction. Again we get Harry at his aunt and uncles before going to Hogwarts. Being this third time we’ve seen this in a row now, it feels more like a retread of something that we just want to get through to get to the actual story. The one thing that changes this time around is that the event actually holds a little more weight than the past times. This time we see Harry as he leaves the house and quickly get thrown into the plot of the movie with the reveal of the escaped prisoner Sirius Black. The one thing that was pointed out during the argument between Harry and his uncles sister was that Harry is very defensive when people disrespect his parents and rightfully so. That was a subtle and obvious thing to happen that comes into play later on in the movie. Back to him leaving though, it’s important because it brings in The Minister of Magic and introduces him as a prominent figure in this world. We learn about how wizards can’t use underage magic and how there is more political involvement with magic overall.

This movie is very clearly a lot more stylistic than the other two were and is even a little more stylistic than most of the other films too. Unless you really look at the movies from a technical standpoint you won’t notice because it’s getting down to the very tiny details, but is noticeably different because of the director change. What the director does bring though is the added maturity to the characters and the tone and overall feel of the movie. A lot of this of course is credited to J.K. Rowling since the movie is based off of her books and she very much came up with the change in the story direction going for a more mature feel as our characters got older. The biggest thing is that they introduce the dementors who are essentially prison guards for Azkaban prison and have the ability to suck the happiness out of people. It really does add more of a dark and depressing feel to the movie along with the overall look visually feeling much darker than the previous ones.

Like Harry, all of the other characters experienced the advantage of skipping a year between films since they all now look more mature and are starting to really develop their acting and characters more. This is the point where the actors really started to embrace who it was they were playing which of course comes with this being the third film for them. I like what they did with most of the characters. My two biggest issues are with Ron and Malfoy. Now I don’t know exactly how they were written in the books so I have to go based off of what I see in the movies, but both of these characters are incredibly whiney and cowardly about everything that happens to them. Malfoy has a few moments where he’s overconfident and thinks he’s better than Harry as usual but I really don’t like how quickly he turns into a little pansy after being attacked by the hippogriff. On top of that, he really has nothing to do in this movie in the slightest. Ron on the other hand is typical Ron, but again I really don’t like the way his character is written and how he really doesn’t have that much to do other than the fact that he is the owner of the rat who ends up being our big twist. Really none of the characters have much to do or any importance except for Harry, Hermione, Lupin, and Sirius.

During the middle of the movie we get some insight into the overarching story of what exactly is going on and some hints as to where the story is going, but nothing really as exciting or interesting as in the other two. Maybe it was because I was more focused on the whole Sirius, Lupin, and Pettigrew storyline that was coming together instead of noticing the classroom stuff, but this movie I really feel like got away from what made me enjoy the middle portions of the other movies. The main storyline though is incredibly crafted as far as how everything is revealed and how it makes you think one thing like Harry, but then flips everything when it starts to reveal what’s actually going on. I was mad at Lupin for befriending Harry and then turning on him, but then to find out that he and Sirius weren’t against Harry but instead were after Ron’s rat then it became more interesting. Especially after it was revealed that Pettigrew was responsible for Harry’s parents death and that Sirius was in reality their friend the whole time and never betrayed them. This adds an important depth to both Harry and Sirius that makes Harry grow more as a character and gives us a new important character to love with Sirius. My big gripe is that after Harry knocks out Snape, nothing is ever brought up about it again. Snape doesn’t come back and we never see any consequence or issue with the fact that he just attacked a professor, so I’m not really sure how I feel about that.

Going into my final issue with the movie is the use of time travel. This one thing brings about a bigger conversation for me. I don’t know whether or not I like that it was introduced for a few reasons. Adding time travel to any kind of franchise is a risky move for the future implications it could have. Now it is clearly stated by Hermione that wizards run in to problems when they meddle with time, and just as quick as its introduced into the series, it’s immediately forgotten about in later movies, so it was only used as a plot device for this movie. It’s a clever plot the device that works for the story, but I don’t really know if it works as a whole. I can’t really knock the director and writer if in fact this was all used in the book, but again I don’t know for sure. I like it because it works, but I don’t like it because I just don’t really like when a movie relies on that when it’s not needed. I guess the comparison is that it was necessary in Avengers: Endgame to a point or Back to the Future, but this series as a whole could’ve told a compelling story and could have told this story without having to rely on time travel.

As I said in the beginning, this is the most overrated Harry Potter movie and that’s not really a bad thing per say. It’s still a really good solid movie and is better than the first two because of the new direction and the actual main story being better, but it isn’t as good as people make it out to be. I like the direction very much and the director is a world class director, but I don’t think he delivers a movie that stands miles and miles ahead of all of the other ones like it’s made out to be. It has some character issues and some story issues especially the use of time travel that I don’t like or agree with, but for the most part it’s a great Harry Potter movie that really sets the tone and overall feel moving forward into the rest of the series.

Grade: B+

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