I know I’m expected to review the final film in the series, so if that’s all you want, scroll away. But I’m going to use this as an opportunity to weigh in on the entire series. Because that’s the kind of completist I am.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — Yes, I realize, you may know this film as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That’s the dumbed down American version of the title. I actually went to the trouble of getting a copy of the Canadian edition DVD! That’s right! In my movie, they have a Philosopher’s Stone. So there!
Anyway, this is a great introduction to the series. Right away you realize that Harry is a loveable scamp, Hermione is a stickler for rules, and Ron is the comedy relief. You realize that, holy crap, this thing has a great cast! Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, and the can’t-be-topped Alan Rickman. You’re also treated to a fantasy world that’s far more intriguing than that of Lord of the Rings or some dumb thing like Eragon. This is our world, but weird. Everything is a little kooky, a little dangerous. It’s not the best of the series, but you could tell they knew where they were going.
Moment echoed in the final film: “The wand chooses the wizard.”
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — I’ll admit there was a bit of a drop in quality, but really, after such a great start, they could get away with a little less perfection. The best thing about this movie? Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart. That was perfect casting. The worst thing about this movie? Did we really need the spiders? I mean, really? No. Wait. The worst thing about this movie is the music. Good grief, if you can’t get Williams back, at least hire someone who knows how to adapt him.
Moment echoed in the final film: Opening the Chamber (this time by Ron) using parseltongue.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Is this the best film of the series? Possibly. It’s certainly the zaniest, with the inflation of Aunt Marge, the Knight Bus sequence, the return of the Whomping Willow. And, oh yeah, werewolves, fake rats, dementors and time travel. This is a marvelously complex movie, and I loved it. It also had my favorite of all the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers: Remus Lupin. If you watch the series carefully, he’s the only one who actually taught them anything. This film also introduces us to the titular prisoner, the perfectly cast Gary Oldman. Oh, it’s a shame he got so little screen time!
Moment echoed in the final film: A patronus charm (this time by Aberforth) clearing out a whole bunch of dementors.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — Another serious contender for the best film of the series. The TriWizard competitions were a little far fetched. (Would Dumbledore really tie students underwater like that?) And the final gambit was way too complex. (If you can put a fake teacher into Hogwarts, why bother with the TriWizard Tournament? Just hand Harry the freaking portkey!) But the flowering of young love was handled deftly, whether Harry pining over Cho, or Ron and Hermione tangoing around their obvious affection for one another. Oh, and welcome to the series, Voldemort. Man, Ralph Fiennes danced right on the edge of hamming it up too much, didn’t he?
Moment echoed in the final film: The slimy proto-Voldemort under the bench looked almost exactly like the proto-Voldemort Wormtail dumped into the magic cauldron.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — As an avid reader of the books, this was by far my least favorite. But the movie version might be my favorite of the series. We finally get some decent scenes with Sirius Black. We get a glimpse into the complicated history of Snape during his occlumency lessons with Harry. Best of all, we get a totally kick ass fight scene at the end. Finally, Harry starts to feel more like a hero and less like a child with lucky survival skills.
Moment echoed in the final film: A clearly fatal fall, stopped by magic with the characters splayed out, Mission: Impossible style.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — Here it is. My least favorite film. By a mile. There’s only really one specific thing I dislike about it: the half-assed way they handled the plot point of the title, “Who is the Half-Blood Prince?” Beyond that, it’s just remarkably uninvolving. To be frank, I remember little about it. There was a love potion runner, and a really uninspired scene in a cave that felt like the old fashioned type of fantasy that Rowling usually does a good job of not lowering herself to.
Moment echoed in the final film: Dumbledore’s discussion with Harry on a (real) train platform.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 — I suppose an argument could be made that they were being a little too greedy by splitting the seventh and final book into two films, but I really didn’t have a problem with it. This one has some great sequences: the multiple Harrys at the beginning, Ron vanquishing the locket horcrux, the animation for the “Tale of the Three Brothers”, the return of Dobby. But it’s also awfully slow, and has the same meandering quality that kind of dragged down the book. Definitely a middle-of-the-road installment.
Moment echoed in the final film: Sneaking into the Ministry of Magic (and Gringott’s) with nothing more than polyjuice potion, an invisibility cloak, and chutzpah.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 — This was it, the culmination of the biggest film series in history, based on the biggest book series in history. This is kind of a double-edged sword. There’s a huge amount of expectation… but there’s also a huge desire to like it. They hit all the right beats. The pensieve flashbacks of Snape’s were just what I had hoped, a combination of clips from old films, and new material to explain his tortured history. The Battle of Hogwarts really couldn’t have been much better. (I’d have given Neville more of an extended fight with the snake, but that’s just me.) They even managed to class up some of the more awkward moments from the book. (The Elder Wand stuff is simplified, the show-down between Harry and Voldemort is moved out of the Great Hall.) Still, like the previous, this wasn’t the best by any means, but it was a more than acceptable conclusion to the series.