Friday, May 19, 2023

Green Phoenix - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review

Prisoner of azkaban UK poster.jpg

Over the passed year, I have periodically reviewed different entries in the Harry Potter film franchise. Based on the bestselling book series by J.K. Rowling (who shall from this moment be referred to only as "The Author" for reasons that should fairly obvious for anyone not living under a rock), the seven Harry Potter books and the associated eight films had an indelible impact upon my childhood.

I know that I have discussed this relationship in reviews of earlier films, but I felt it was very important to restate the connection when introducing today's movie; the third entry in the Harry Potter film series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The film widely regarded by many as the best single film in the franchise and one that I think could easily take the claim as the most popular, Prisoner of Azkaban stands out as a transitional film within the franchise, fully transforming the series from the lighthearted self-contained children's films of the Chris Columbus era into the mature and multi-arced works of the later films.

But does the film truly deserve its status as one of the best entries in the series? Does it still hold up over 15 years after its release? And does it overcome the issues that I noted plagued earlier entries in the film franchise?

  • Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
  • Running Time: 142 Minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13


Life is getting more complicated for Harry Potter, the famous Boy-Who-Lived, as he enters his third year attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. From becoming a teenager and dealing with miserable abusive relatives to school bullies and a best friend that seems to be attending every class in school (at the same time), nothing is ever quiet for the famous would-be wizard.
Oh yeah...that's not including a mysterious Defense Against Dark Arts teacher with connection to Harry's parents, an escaped convict that seems to be hellbent on avenging Lord Voldemort, and a legion of soul-sucking monster sent by the government to Hogwarts to track down Sirius Black, the Death Eater with a heartbreaking link to Harry Potter's past.



I have stated in the past that while I might enjoy watching the first two films in the Harry Potter franchise, I still feel like they are among the weakest entries in the series with the benefit of hindsight. In contrast, I personally hold Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as one of the best films in the series, an opinion that is, as stated above, actually shared with many other people as well.

Director Alfonso Cuarón managed to create a perfect transitional film between the child-oriented Chris Columbus films and the later edgy, dark films that followed in Goblet of Fire's wake. The film feels like a complete tonal shift from its predecessors and Cuarón managed to bring out a far more likeable and grounded performance out of his actors. The result was a film that feels like it truly lives in the world of Harry Potter. So much so that I actually find myself watching this film independent of the first two when rewatching the franchise.
The film is incredibly well-written and works its emotional beats poignantly. The film is actually one of only two films in the franchise that has no direct confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, and despite this, the role that this film has in preparing the later franchise; whilst still standing alone, is absolutely essential to the viewing experience. The film also doesn't really conclude any major story beats, but instead focuses on building up elements that all play into later films in the series, specifically Goblet of Fire. In a way, you can sort of think of Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire as a Part 1 and 2 of a specific storyline within the Harry Potter series (the Voldemort Resurrection arc, if you will). The result is a film that focuses far more on characterization and fleshing out the relationships of characters rather than any large overarching mystery as the first two film did.

This really works in this film's favor because of how the characters finally begin to feel comfortable in the world, likely because the actors were also becoming more comfortable. The director actually had the child actors dress less formally specifically to express a growing rebelliousness and heighten the expressions of personality, which goes a long way to fixing some of the more uncomfortable character moments in the first two films. Most improved definitely goes to Daniel Radcliffe. In Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, Radcliffe was sort of a one-note generic heroic kid that was sort of meandering through the magical world. Here we dive much deeper into his personal trauma and the frustrations and pain that underlie such a character and it really makes the overall conflict between him and Sirius Black feel more real and invested.

The deutragonists of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger play a crucial role, though I will say that Hermione has a much greater role in this film than Ron does. As a result, Emma Watson's performance shines through much more than Grint's and I do think that this film is where I begin to personally turn on the character of Ron Weasley. I just personally find him less interesting and, honestly, more of a hindrance as the series goes on. I see Neville Longbottom becoming more important as Harry's friend (at least post-Goblet of Fire). This film Ron Weasley's role is mainly to facilitate the overall plot and play into the big reveal of the movie.

Speaking of, this film actually has a pretty decent twist. Though it is much better in the books, as they have more time to properly relate the relationship between Harry's father, Sirius Black, and the true nature of the Marauder's Map. I remember in the book it being a pretty great reveal and while it still works here great, I can easily see how it could be better. The twist does actually lead to a surprising end to the film, as our heroes end up categorically losing in their nearly all their stated objectives. The film ends with a promise of "some" sort of happiness and even comments in-universe on the seemingly "pointless" nature of the film in terms of its conflict resolution, but the film doesn't really rely on its conflict for its drama. 
Instead, Prisoner of Azkaban relies on fleshing out the Wizarding World with great visuals, music, and character development. In these fields, the film enhances its storytelling and leaves the film feeling distinctly character driven rather than story-driven. The result is a film that looks different from many of the other films in the series, feels different, sounds different, and ultimately ends up hitting different. I do think in retrospect, I would be hard-pressed to decide whether I personally like this film or Goblet of Fire more, but in terms of sheer quality, I do think I have to say that Prisoner of Azkaban is a solid B+ film. Not a perfect 10/10, but easily among the best entries in the franchise and a great entertaining movie on its own.
  • 8/10
  • 8/10
  • 8/10
  • 8/10


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