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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Something wicked this way comes.

Directed by:

Alfonso Cuaron

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 142 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: PG

Country: United States

In one of the most eagerly-awaited blockbusters of 2004, a now slightly-awkward-and-pubic-looking Daniel Radcliffe returns as Harry Potter, everyone’s favourite speccy sorcerer.

Fans of the franchise will be happy to hear the majority of the same faces return to take up their familiar roles (with the notable exception of the late Richard Harris, whose part as the grizzled wizard Dumbledore is taken over by Michael Gambon). But it’s all change elsewhere, with a new director, new focus, and new danger.

Helming this one is little-known Mexican honcho Alfonso Cuaron who, unlike predecessor Chris Colombus, chucks us straight in at the deep end. Unsure of who all the characters are? Unfamiliar with the first two films? Haven’t read the books? Tough toadstools – this might run at well over two hours, but it doesn’t wait around for anybody.

Even viewed as a stand-alone film in its own right, the plot is pretty tricky to make out. The basic premise is that a snarling baddie by the name of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman, playing it half Ming the Merciless and half Keith Richards) has escaped from the nick and is headed in the general direction of our Quidditch-playing Timmy Mallett look-a-like. Beyond sussing out that much, non-Potter aficionados can expect to be left scratching their heads as plot point after plot point go unexplained.

This is a much darker flick than the first two, and it’s to its credit that it recognises the blooming adolescence of Harry and his chums (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson). They’re not kids anymore, and as such appear to have discovered a collective rebellious streak – indeed, “fighting back” is a strong-running theme throughout the movie.

But by far and away the most impressive thing about this one is the special effects. Without being over-used, the visuals on display really push the boundaries and rank as the best I’ve seen in any live action picture.

Unfortunately, there’s just no escaping the fact that, despite it’s “kiddy flick” status, this is one confusing 140 minutes. It’s got just about enough plus points to make it worth seeing – and plenty of you will anyway – but anyone expecting Cuaron to ease us nicely into things the way Columbus did should prepare themselves for a major culture shock.

It's Got: Werewolves, witches, broomsticks, Quidditch, Lenny Henry, and his missus.

It Needs: For the third film in a row, to make better use of Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape, arguably the most interesting character in the whole thing.

Summary

A visually exhilarating but virtually unfathomable hundred-mile-an-hour bare-back hippogriff ride. Baffled? You will be!

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