Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Running Time: 142 mins
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban is a British film and the third in the Harry Potter series. Following the escape of Sirius Black, a dangerous prisoner, from Azkaban, Harry finds himself under enormous threat, a danger only worsened by the arrival of a group of dark guardians at Hogwarts.
Following the finale of The Chamber Of Secrets, I was worried that the increasingly dark tone of this series wasn’t for the better. Although I’m still not enchanted by the move away from wide-eyed fantasy adventure, Alfonso Cuarón does a very good job at handling the new vibe in The Prisoner Of Azkaban, making the stakes feel far more important, albeit at the expense of the central characters’ development.
There’s no way we can talk about this film without looking into the darker tone in comparison to Chris Columbus’ two more light-hearted and family-friendly adventures in The Chamber Of Secrets and The Philospher’s Stone. On the whole, I was very impressed to see that the shift towards looking at the dark forces that threaten Harry and Hogwarts provided some intriguing drama and tension, lessening the need for carefree fantasy adventure.
Of course, my personal preference is the latter, but huge credit has to go to director Alfonso Cuarón for making the dark tone work effectively, and still produce an entertaining movie. Over the course of two and a half hours, The Prisoner Of Azkaban gives us a greater sense of the villainous in the world of wizards, expanding upon the first two films’ portrayal of said world, venturing beyond the walls of Hogwarts, Harry’s rivalry with Draco Malfoy, therefore giving a wider context that makes the film’s stakes all the more important.
Another positive to draw from this film is the continuing improvement of the lead performances. With the addition of a star-studded supporting cast including Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon (stepping in for the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore), there is simply a lot more variety in the characters, but it’s the leading trio that once again stand out. Taking a less major role third time out, Rupert Grint isn’t quite so magnetic, but still great fun when he gets into his stride, whilst Daniel Radcliffe continues to impress in dealing with the overall story arc’s darker and more dramatic tones.
However, the biggest improvement is from Emma Watson, who, from a slightly unnatural performance three years before, has now evolved into the best player of the leading three. Hermione takes on the role of the guide through the deepest depths of spells and magic, and Watson does a fantastic job to assure you that she’s so much more than the little goodie-goodie of the first two films, also handling the darker tones of the film brilliantly, making her just as important to you as a viewer as Harry Potter or Ron Weasley.
Generally, The Prisoner Of Azkaban is far more effective with the increasing darkness of this series than the finale of The Chamber Of Secrets, making it a compelling and entertaining watch, but there are still problems that prevent it from being as captivating as the very first film.
For one, the visual style takes the bleakness a little too far. Darker storytelling is almost always a trope of a sequel, but that can still be achieved without going overboard on the grayscale and sepia tone. It’s a visual style that Cuarón has pulled off well in films like Children Of Men, but for the Harry Potter franchise, the extremely bleak visuals seem a little too much, and are more off-putting than they are useful for telling the story.
Also, the plot third time round feels a little repetitive. Although the story allows us to see further beyond Hogwarts into the wizarding world, the main beats of the plot feel very clichéd, often even taking the exact same premises throughout as the previous two stories. Although excusable, it’s a little disappointing to see the franchise start to run out of plot ideas only three films in, and is yet another point of worry for the films ahead.
Overall, however, I was impressed by The Prisoner Of Azkaban. It’s by no means as good as the first film’s wide-eyed fantasy happiness, but it is still an effective and engaging dark take on the evolving story arc of this franchise. With improved performances, solid directing and higher stakes, this is undoubtedly a good film, but problems in its plot, visual style and options for the future leave it faulting from time to time, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.