I have now seen the third Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban for the second time and the first time in context/order. The first thing that stands out is that it does as I suspected work equally well as a stand alone film or as part of the series.
Its thirteen year old Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at wizard School and once again his life is danger. Convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban Prison and is heading for Hogwarts. The rumours are that Black is coming for Harry, but the young wizard has a more immediate concern, Dementors, Azkaban’s particularly nasty guards. The Dementors who are more frightening than the prisoners they guard have taken up residence in the grounds around Hogwarts. Harry does have a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the shape of Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) but he has his own problems.
One of the problems with the second movie is the way the story seemed to be a complete rehash of the first movie. Setups and their outcomes were all to familiar and predictable, the movies divided comfortably into three parts, an introduction to the school year and the story/themes of the movie followed by a middle section that served to both develop the ongoing plot and set up the final section of the movie with a Quiddich match and a confrontation with Draco Malfoy thrown in for good measure. Whilst this movie fails to move away from this structure it does make better use of them with an entertaining and light hearted introduction and a more well planned final adventure.
There are two main threads to the plot, they conveniently converge in the final act to make an a compelling little adventre mainly featuring Harry and Hermione (Emma Watson). The story makes good use of time travel using the conventions of the genre without overdoing the clichés. The young actors are growing into their parts and are improving as actors giving more believable and less self-conscious. On the subject of casting, Michael Gambon makes a good replacement Dumbledore after the sad death of the great Richard Harris.
Another slice of family entertainment but Azkaban is a far darker movie than the first two and is all the better for it. Director Alfonso Cuaron not only delivers a more gritty film than its predecessors but he also demonstrates far more artistic flair. The addition of the new characters are welcome and perfectly performed by Thewlis and Oldman.