I realized that most of the rest of the films in the series wouldn’t warrant an entire review, so here’s what I think of them, in brief.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
This one suffers from the same problem as the first one, in that it is far too faithful to the book. However, the story works a lot better in this one. Why? Probably because, despite it being the longest film in the series, the filmmakers trimmed out the least important aspects of the novel, leaving only what was essential to the story. It never feels like the film is wasting your time, which I really can’t say about the first film. I mean, in this one, the requisite Quidditch scene actually has an impact on the plot. In the first film, it wasn’t nearly as important. Yes, it added another moment meant to make Snape out as the villain, but in Chamber of Secrets, the only Quidditch shown was the Quidditch that was specifically important to the story.
And of course, the acting in this one is much better all around. I think it benefited from the actors having seen the first film. By the time filming for the second one came around, they were all familiar with the world and their specific place in it, which allowed them to focus more on actually acting. The CGI is also a lot better, as evidenced in the basilisk scene, which manages to still be exciting all these years later. This isn’t the best Potter film, but it certainly isn’t the worst.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
This is the one that is often cited as the “best in the franchise”. Having now actually seen the franchise in its entirety, I think this one actually ranks about second or third. Out of all the films in the series, this one fits in the least. It establishes a completely different world, one that seems to be outside of the world established by the films that came before and after it. I’d like to say that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I really can’t. What I can do is let them get away with it because they didn’t know what was coming afterwards. How was Cuaron to know that Yates would come by a few years later and completely disregard everything that he had set up? It was his job to make a good movie, and in the end, he did.
Cuaron really nails the emotions of the main characters, much more so than Columbus ever did. What makes this film really great is its focus on how characters influence the story, rather than just the story above all, which is really what film is all about. This is extra-effective because the book actually had a pretty loose plot. It had a premise, but not every scene was important to that plot. This works in the book, because everything ends up being important later in the series, but when making a film, you have to let it stand on its own. Prisoner of Azkaban does, and that’s the best thing that you can say about it.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
This is the film that is often cited as the “worst in the franchise”, but I can’t help but disagree. Completely. Of all the films in the series, every single one, I think that this is my favorite. Now, does that mean that it’s the best? Certainly not. But if I ever had to sit down and pop in a Potter flick for a rainy Sunday afternoon, this would be the one I would choose, no question. It is the most entertaining Potter film by far, and that doesn’t keep it from being a truly quality picture. In fact, this film stands alone better than any of the other films. Why?
Mostly, it’s because of the simple, archetypal story. It’s a classic tale, and it’s the closest that the series comes to a self-contained Hero’s Journey. Harry receives the call to action, he briefly refuses the call to action (subverted in that he is literally forced to accept it by the rules of the game), he accepts the call, he passes various trials and tribulations, and in the end, he confronts the evil that killed his father. This is a story that, as humans, we love to hear about. And it’s absolutely a story that I love to watch.