Mr. Movie

'Half-Blood Prince' best yet of Harry Potter series

Harry Potter is getting darker, angrier, distinctly more wicked.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth film in the beloved “children’s” books series. It has an edge. Scary Potter?

-- Times, theaters, trailer.

Dark days have hit Hogwarts. Harry Potter nemesis Draco Malfoy is up to something. Harry and his cohorts try to connect the dots but can’t. He’s somehow tied to the murderer Lord Voldemort and a plot to kill Professor Dumbledore.

Meanwhile, Dumbledore has Harry playing detective. He does some deceptive sleuthing trying to learn a critical piece of information about Voldemort from Hogwarts’ newest professor, Horace Slughorn.

The unidentified Half-Blood Prince once owned a book that Harry picks up for a class on potions.

Stopping Lord Voldemort and his minions and unfolding the mystery of his connection to Potter, the other characters and to Hogwarts has been present in every movie. In The Half-Blood Prince a new menace hits Hogwarts: hormones.

The children of Hogwarts are growing up. Ron Weasley has fallen in love with someone other than Hermoine Granger. She is seething. Harry likes Weasley’s sister, but she’s seeing someone else and Ron is the overly protective brother.

Few films have so perfectly and realistically captured middle-school romance. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Klovis — who has written all of the series’ screenplays except The Order of the Phoenix — paint a wonderful picture of that goofy and so-awkward stage of first love.

They do have an advantage. In the last eight years, we have watched Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson mature. We have an emotional connection to them. Their clumsy first steps into the soon-to-be thorns of adulthood are a joy.

It is also provides balance and a place to rest before the heavier horror to come.

Kudos, too, to the superb cast of seasoned pros that continue to add so much life to these films: the late Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Ralph Fiennes and the newest cast member Jim Broadbent.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does have warts. Readers of the books have an unconditional love for the young wizard whether he’s on the page, on celluloid or in a digital media. You love whatever you’re given. Not all muggles eat, breathe and sleep Harry Potter.

Two years have passed since the excellent Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The 10 people left on the planet that haven’t read the books but have enjoyed the movies can’t keep up with the minutiae. A couple of minutes into The Half Blood Prince and the characters and terminology start piling up and you’re lost. The plot basics are pretty easy, but the details of who did what to whom, why and how aren’t.

It was much easier to keep up with Potter and pals when the films came every six months or a year. Since the second flick, I’ve lobbied for a quick tutorial at the beginning of each flick. But why waste that production money and screen time on 10 people, right?

Fans will instantly get into a groove. The rest of you won’t quite get how it all fits together, but the essentials eventually emerge and it is pretty easy to enjoy The Half-Blood Prince.

It is — to date — the best film of the six.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars

Rated PG for mature themes. It opened Wednesday, July 15 at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.