The fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise picks up in a new school year. This time around, Potter is forced into a dangerous competition where his life (and perhaps sanity) will be put to the test in efforts to win a grand prize. Mike Newell takes over the directing this time around, and I think he puts a distinctive style on the world. In this film it seems that the world is established enough for the overall plot to finally start moving forward.
Instead of a dumb opening at the Dursley’s we get a dumb opening at the Quidditch World Cup. Why is this dumb, you ask? We never see any of the game. It is all a big setup to show us the deatheaters—the loyal followers of old Voldy who are coming back to stir up trouble. At least the introduction links to the main narrative, albeit indirectly, and that is a welcome change to the series thus far.
Once the kids get to Hogwarts we are quickly introduced to the new annoying features this time around. First, Ron and Harry are now going through puberty, which in this universe means they can’t get along. What bothers me about this is that this is the end of Ron as a developed character. For the rest of the series he becomes a mopey exposition machine that adds nothing to the plot.
It is easy to find folks complaining about Rowling’s presentation of male puberty. It doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean some of the criticisms aren’t valid. The hormonal changes, stresses, and overall awkwardness are handled with a heavy PG hand (which the series had to) and this seems to be the largest complaint. In these moments the characters vanish and instead we have them being embodied by emotion rather than any true characterization. More on that later.
The plots in the Harry Potter films have always been a little wanting, but this one takes the cake. Harry is selected to compete in the Tri-Wizard Tournament against his will, and now his life is in danger. It is found out in the end that dark forces are manipulating the events so he wins, but this doesn’t make any sense. It comes down to chance and luck that Harry wins two of the tournaments, and it is a close call on the third. The plot is at once overly convoluted and painfully stupid.
Two other schools join in on the competition. There is the one where they all appear to be meatheads, and the other where they train all of their students to be sex objects. Don’t believe me? The camera makes sure to give us a nice wide shot of a bunch of high schoolers’ assess, because class. Not really sure if the underdevelopment was intentional to make us like Hogwarts more or if the writers just fell asleep.
Anyway, a high point is that Brendan Gleeson joins the cast. A low point is that his character isn’t really his character—so his story actually makes no sense. How did the doppelganger know how to act so well? Why would he actually try to be a good teacher? Why then do Harry and the real Moody have a relationship? The answer to these questions is a wave of the arm and the word “magic.”
The tournament is exciting, but Harry shouldn’t be there. Realistically, everyone should have demanded he simply sit until the time runs out. It isn’t right for Hogwarts to have two contenders; it is in fact bullshit. This plot problem has been discussed by many others, and I have to agree with the critics on this one. Harry is immediately ostracized, and certainly does not seem to want to compete. They could have easily addressed this by somehow forcing him to act, or at least have him deciding he wants to win.
In between the tournaments we get more teenage angst and crap. Harry and Ron are both despicable during the Yule Dance and it is a wonder that Hermione wanted anything to do with either of them after this. Further, it is a wonder that Harry and Ron would stay friends, particularly with Ron’s now sudden jealousy and depression. It doesn’t seem realistic—and if they wanted to write Ron out they should have had the two boys grow apart and meet new people. Unfortunately, at Hogwarts you can only have two friends at a time.
The sports fascination in this series always interested me. It is odd that a series marketed to the nerds would so dominantly worship the jock clique. If magic were real, would we really give a shit about sports? Even Quidditch seems like it would be pretty boring to watch without a camera following each player (something that does not happen at Hogwarts). Instead of discovering more about the world, lore, history, or magic we get to watch a bunch of Olympic events—great.
The film is a bit of a mess. Now, despite all of this, the last thirty minutes are absolutely wonderful. The series finally finds its arch-narrative as Voldemort is reborn in the most intense and violent sequence of the series thus far. There is genuine emotion in these scenes, and it is all due to Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson). Cedric is just a kid who wanted to compete, and due to bad luck and circumstance he is murdered by Wormtail. These scenes are fantastic because there are finally narrative stakes in the world. A major complaint I had with this film is that once Harry is in the tournament we all knew he was going to win. At least here we had a real world consequence to the actions of the characters.
When Harry brings back Cedric’s body we get to see one of the best filmed reveals of death, and the subsequent trauma that I think have ever happened in a kid’s movie. The ending packs such a punch that you will forget a lot of the narrative shortcomings in the first half.
Overall, Newell has a problematic takeoff, but sticks the landing in his adaptation of Harry Potter. The ability to shift between tone and theme so well is something that makes me wish he would have continued with the series. What is potentially the messiest of the first four books turns into a pretty entertaining movie, despite the 2:37:00 run time. 6.5/10