Like every "Potter" film before it, except presumably the first, "The Half-Blood Prince" suffers as a singular piece of entertainment. A standing knowledge of the novels or a recent viewing of each previous adaptation is almost a prerequisite for full comprehension of the latest, as the protagonists interact with a revolving door of minor characters between the two or three major plot points in a given tale. In "Half-Blood Prince," those points are spread almost two fatty hours apart, and I hope you like wizard flirting.
Granted, the most glaring issues with this sixth installment in the boffo franchise are ultimately issues with its source material. My recollection of Rowling's novel is now four years old, but I recall a distinct sense of ambivalence toward the uneven work. What's on the page (and what translates to the screen) often feels like a storyteller stalling. At 652 pages and 153 minutes, respectively, both versions of the tale of the eponymous Half-Blood Prince are overlong, concluding with a knockout finale that almost makes up for all the time wasted.
Admittedly, the nothingness is a sometimes-welcome change of pace for the film franchise, the past two iterations of which became increasingly hurried and muddled in their attempt to keep the stories as faithful as possible to the bulky source material, both-times backfiring, creating watchable if ineloquent adaptations of their literary counterparts. Perhaps the moments to breathe in "Half-Blood Prince" should be savored (though in splitting the series' conclusion, "Deathly Hollows," into two parts, I fear the worrisome languid pacing may only worsen), with Screenwriter Steve Kloves painting "Half-Blood Prince" as a more anecdotal film, allowing Harry and his pals to be more than just movie heroes. He lets them be kids.
The statement sounds more praise-worthy than it should (your average sixteen year old not being terribly compelling), and while that ideology might improve the franchise on the whole, it does relatively little for the individual film. The middle of "Half-Blood Prince" sags and is largely inconsequential filler between the heavily plot-driven beginning and end.
"The Half-Blood Prince," finds itself in the unfortunate position of being a largely successful adaptation of a mediocre novel. The film is fun and thrilling when it should be, and just as forgettable as its source elsewhere.
Despite its PG rating, Yates treats Rowling's characters with the maturity and the respect they deserve, and "Half-Blood Prince," fittingly ends on a scene reminiscent of the conclusion to "The Empire Strikes Back." The sun is setting beyond a great balcony and our worn heroes are preparing for what's sure to be their greatest challenge yet. Here's hoping Yates fills the series' final chapter(s?) with the invigorating excitement of "Return of the Jedi," or even "Half-Blood Prince" at its best.