Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I did not hold high hopes for this newest Potter sequel. There have been many great trilogies, but when has a fourth instalment been any good? Things are bound to grow formulaic and tedious, as attempting to read J.K. Rowling’s ever thicker later Potter tomes amply proved to me. Alfonso Cuaron managed to make his Prisoner of Azkaban significantly leaner and more stylish than Chris Colombus’ slavishly faithful Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, but I was sad to see that he wouldn’t get another turn at the bat. Even more puzzling was the hiring of Mike Newell in his place; what the hell does he know about FX-heavy fantasy epics? Turns out he’s got an innate feel for the genre, it turns out, and “Goblet of Fire” now ranks as one of the best Harry Potter pictures yet.

In the translation from the page to the screen, Steve Kloves had the good sense to insert well-used ellipses and toss out Rowling’s superfluous asides and subplots, digging out a relatively straightforward intrigue that builds up to increasingly intense set pieces. Cuaron’s film was already not just-for-kids, but Newell’s taking the series into even darker territory, all the way to a climax not unlike that of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

After a nightmare sequence and a quick detour by the World Cup of Quidditch, we’re back at Hogwarts, which is hosting this year’s Tri-Wizard Tournament – a misleading name (like the Three Musketeers) because four champions end up competing, including an unwitting Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Along with East Europe colossus Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski – they should have made him say “I must break you” – wait, now that was a great fourth film!), French blonde hottie Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) and pretty boy Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson), Harry will have to face three deadly challenges.

On top of that, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) still threatens to return and, maybe scariest of all, Harry must struggle with dangerously attractive creatures… girls. As dramatic as the movie can be, it does have a few fun scenes of awkward teenage “Goblet of Hormones” almost-romance. The Tournament also features a traditional ballroom dance, so the boys must ask out the girls. This doesn’t work out too well for Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint), but Hermione (Emma Watson) gets a lovely Audrey Hepburn staircase moment. Also lightening the mood a little in between dragon fights and Black Lake dives are the amusingly over the top performances by two new supporting players, Miranda Richardson as kooky gossip reporter Rita Skeeter and Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eyed Moody, the students’ grotesque, scar-faced, iron-legged, nearly psychotic new teacher.

One still wonders what a Spielberg, a Zemeckis or a Shyamalan might make of a Potter flick, but Mike Newell does a more than impressive job here. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is sure to thrill you, even if you think you’re tired of this franchise.