Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Having seen Harry Potter on screen before, his fourth outing at Hogwarts becomes less about exploring him as a character and more an exploration of how much can we throw at him. Apparently quite a lot. This time around Harry fights dragons, angry shrubs, and a school dance. For him, it's that last item that's the worst.

The same cast is back, but for Goblet of Fire Harry Potter gets a new director in the form of Mike Newell. Mike's never directed a movie of this magnitude, and it shows. The film is well put together, and Goblet of Fire shines in smaller character moments like a school dance, but it's sometimes visually unimpressive. The school looks dreary and dark, sometimes rather bland. Dark can be good, but it's not very magical. The movie's long too, perhaps no longer than the others, but it feels longer. It drags, jumping between different sections it seems as though there's three movies in here instead of one.

But now I've gotten all negative. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is actually a fairly good movie, fun, inventive, and willing to show us a few things we haven't already seen from the Harry Potter series before. It helps that the script takes a few breaks from Hogwarts, which by now has been adequately reconnoitered. Instead, the film's characters hang out in massive stadiums while Harry competes in a variety of competitions at an event called the Triwizard Tournament.

The Triwizard Tournament begins near the start of the film, and carries through to the end. It's being held at Hogwarts, and students from other schools have come to compete. New characters are introduced in an almost cursory way; most, with the exception of a fine young lad named Cedric (Robert Pattinson), are never developed. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) gets stuck in the tournament by happenstance, and again, succeeds as he always does through plain, stupid luck. Harry's lack of any real ability continues to be this series' Achilles heel. If he wins it's usually only on the backs of others, or in some cases through flat out cheating. What sort of character is this kid? He seems only too happy to take all the credit, and movies are only too happy to give it to him. Not exactly a great lesson for young people if you think about it… which I'm sure they don't.

There's nothing all that special about Harry, except for his theme music. But that's ok; Newell does a good enough job developing the other characters around him. Ron (Rupert Grint) gets more screen time than he did in his last outing, and part of the film is spent on a developing rift between him and his friend Harry. Hermione (Emma Watson) comes around to growing up, and gets terribly interested in boys. Ron and Harry aren't quite sure what to do with this.

New this time around is another Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher named Mad Eye Moody, played with zest by Brendan Gleeson. How do they keep coming up with such fantastic guest stars? Mad Eye's name is every bit as descriptive as you'd hope; his roving gaze is both comedic and ominous.

Look, it really doesn't matter what I say about any of this. If you're a Harry Potter fan you're going to go see it (in fact you've probably already seen it) and you're going to love it. This is a solid outing for the boy who lived, better in any case than the rather sometimes boring ones Columbus saddled us with. It's not quite the success of Cuaron's version though. It's too long in places, and drags when it should soar. It's rated PG-13, but Newell really never takes advantage of that heftier rating. If you're going to go PG-13, might as well go all the way. Instead Goblet of Fire kind of lives in that place between PG and PG-13, one not-so-grizzly death less and it probably would have been PG. In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that it is Hermione's interest in boys that pushed it over the edge more than anything. There's a double entendre in there about how her date likes to be "physical".

This is a good movie, and a fun movie, but not a great movie. So far, the Harry Potter series has only had one of those. It's irrelevant. I think Harry's fans are pretty happy with mediocre. At least mediocre isn't bad.