It's excellent and I enjoyed it. It's a strong, efficiently crafted film. However if I had to criticise it, I might suggest that it feels perhaps a little too streamlined and tidy. It doesn't sprawl. They've pruned away all the messiness, leaving a clean plotline with no digressions... which, for me, feels slightly unsatisfying both as an adaptation of this particular novel and as a Harry Potter film.
Part of that, mind you, is that it's the first one with no mystery.
#1 had "where's the Philosopher's Stone", "what is it anyway" and "who's looking for it and releasing trolls to stop anyone else finding it first?"
#2 had the Chamber of Secrets.
#3 had the Prisoner of Azkaban (I spy a pattern) and the most complicated mystery investigation yet, involving time travel, secret identities, three different kinds of animal transformation and a ton of "not what he seems".
#4 took a step back from mysteries, mostly being about the Triwizard Tournament and the scary political situation, but still has the central question of who put Harry's name in the Goblet of Fire. (Also "where's David Tennant?")
This film, though, feels mystery-less. There is deception, yes, but we only find out about it afterwards. You could summarise the plot in a couple of sentences without feeling you'd missed anything important, which certainly isn't true of the book. Harry gets persecuted by the Ministry of Magic, who send Dolores Umbrage to torture students and gut Hogwarts. Harry secretly trains up his friends into the self-styled "Dumbledore's Army" and it ends in a huge Jedi battle. The end. That's it.
There's a minor puzzle over why Dumbledore's being weird, but that's partly camouflaged by the theme of "angry adolescent who can't communicate with anyone". One doesn't question it, because it fits. Then we get on to the vigour of the scriptwriter's pruning. (That's Michael Goldenberg, since this is the only one of these eight films not written by Steve Kloves.) Obviously you're going to have to lose a lot in distilling 800-odd pages to a 138-minute movie, but...
(a) There's no Quidditch and no subplot with Ron trying out for the Gryffindor team.
(b) Hermione and Ron don't become prefects and Hermione doesn't blackmail Rita Skeeter.
(c) We don't meet Neville's parents, Rita Skeeter, Mundungus Fletcher, Marietta Edgecombe (who's the one who betrays Dumbledore's Army in the book), Peeves (although he's absent from all the films), etc.
(d) There's no flashback to Harry's mother, Lily, defending Snape when they were all at school together, although in fairness there's a shorter James-Snape scene instead.
(e) The children never get a centaur for a teacher.
(f) Harry and Cho don't break up, as far as I can tell.
For a trivial example, take Kreacher the House Elf. He wasn't in the original script, but Rowling insisted on his reinstatement because he'd become important in later films. We thus have a throwaway moment or two of Kreacher being grouchy and bigoted for no plot reason... and he's great! He's memorable, despite being just background colour. That's the kind of shaggy richness and worldbuilding that Harry Potter is normally overflowing with.
I accept that deleting all the Kreachers made the film better, for an important definition of "better". (I'm using "Kreacher" as an umbrella term for anything not indispensible for the storyline.) The film became more focused. It became clearer about what it really wanted to say. The main flow of the drama would have been strengthened by not meandering off into side-streams. I find it a little regrettable; that's all. However that's a subtle criticism and there's plenty of stuff here I like a lot.
I like Yates's seedy, down-at-heel Britain. It's no tourist brochure. Dudley Dursley is a horribly plausible yob, in that urban wasteland of a playground near an underpass slathered in graffiti. If Harry Potter were a post-holocaust story, these scenes would look more or less the same. Lorries drive past in the rain. It's a visual metaphor for the way Harry Potter's world is falling apart around him, with the magical world in denial of the return of Voldemort. The muggle world looks horrible, but the wizard world looks exactly as it always did and the Ministry of Magic is clinging to that comforting illusion like grim death.
Daniel Radcliffe, crucially, is good. At last, he's made it. It's been a long slog, but everything I've heard about him suggests a hard-working actor who'd taken the role very seriously and had been continually pushing himself to get better. He's solid. I was impressed. Radcliffe sells his relationship with Gary Oldman, for instance, convincing you on the strength of a few brief moments that Harry's turned Sirius into his one emotional rock in what's otherwise a tumult of adolescent anger and confusion for him. They get less screen time together than you'd think and it's Radcliffe who has to do the heavy lifting. He succeeds. Given where the storyline ends up going, inadequate acting there could have sunk the film on its own.
That's not a fluke, either. Radcliffe's pulling his weight throughout, except perhaps in the scene near the end where he wants to kill Helena Bonham-Carter. I liked his micro-regret after snapping at Ron, for instance. He also pulls off his big speech to Dumbledore's Army, when they're all still wondering whether or not self-training's a good idea. Radcliffe's always been all-important, obviously, but that's particularly so here, since Ron and Hermione's roles have been pared to the bone and so Grint and Watson can't really help carry anything this time.
"I feel so angry all the time." Radcliffe sells that. You believe him, without which the film would have been hollow.
Most of the returning characters get short-changed, though. Even Gambon doesn't make as much impact as he should, despite Dumbledore getting no fewer than three scenes that make him monumental. It's "turn up and look awesome" stuff like his breezy domination of the trial at the beginning or his Jedi battle at the end. In between, though, he's avoiding Harry like a dose of the clap and the film doesn't let us get close to him. It's cool to see him kicking arse like Merlin or Gandalf, though. We'd heard a lot about him, but here, for the first time, he lives up to his reputation.
Of the others, though, David Thewlis is wasted. Gary Oldman is charming but kept at arm's length for most of the film, with one key line ("get away from my godson") having so little impact that I wonder if Oldman ad-libbed it and so Yates didn't manage to incorporate this unexpected element properly. McGonagall barely exists. You might not notice that Ginny Weasley's in the film at all.
Alan Rickman's hilarious, though, even if there's still something off-centre and awkward-seeming about how he plays Snape's bitterness towards Harry, while Robbie Coltrane sent a chill down my back with "a storm coming". I'm also amused by David Bradley being one of the most important characters in the school, despite having almost no dialogue.
Nonetheless, the memorable ones are the newcomers. Evanna Lynch couldn't be more perfect as Luna Lovegood. She is Luna. It's that simple. Her character's also important thematically, as the one person at school who's even more of an outsider than Harry. (See their conversation about Thestrals. "People avoid them because they're a bit..." "Different.")
Just as great, though, is Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. These films have had a slightly mixed record at bringing alive Rowling's awe-inspiringly punchable antagonists. See Rita Skeeter, for instance. Umbridge never struck me as the most colourful of them on the page, but in the film she's perhaps the ultimate hate figure of them all. The pink! The kittens! The girlish giggles! The blood quill... brrrr, that blood quill. I got slightly queasy at that, actually. This is Umbridge's film and she's got it in a grip of (pink) steel. Mind you, both the film and the book appear to end with Umbridge getting gang-raped by centaurs, which as far as I can tell is actually authorial intention. (Centaurs are very rapey in the original Greek myths and, in the book, whatever they do after dragging off Umbridge leaves no visible physical marks but leaves her traumatised. Rowling studied French and Classics at university and knows her mythology in detail, of course, and will cheerfully include story points like Dumbledore's brother getting busted for what appears to be bestiality. I realise that this theory has been around for a while, but I'm including it here since it's the first I'd heard of it.)
Returning to Umbridge, though, it's her philosophy that's horrifying. She teaches safe, risk-free Defence against the Dark Arts. She thinks exams are the sole purpose of education and that "progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged."
And then there's Bonham-Carter. Yes, she's known for this kind of role, but even so. You'd climb out of your own skin to get away from her.
This is an excellent film. I'd never dream of claiming otherwise. It's full of cool stuff, from the awesomeness that is Dumbledore's Army to the series's first full-blown Jedi battle. (Then the big guns go toe-to-toe and the film goes beyond that into fire snake demons, indoor tsunami and an exploding tornado of broken glass.) I like the way the series's snake motif is being continued, by the way. These are big dramatic things, but there are also subtler charms like Luna Lovegood and the humour of Ron and Hermione.
Nonetheless, even if it might objectively be inferior, I'd still like to see David Yates's original three-hour cut of the film. This is the second shortest movie in the series, but it's based on the longest book. They've made it feel simple. It's good, but personally I'd have liked to see something a little less tidied.