Kevin Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
With many of the length and meandering issues of the other Harry Potter films, this sixth entry in the film largely sums up everything I have not enjoyed for half the film. Yet, somehow it pulls if off surprisingly well, turning its slow and character-driven first half into an enjoyable diversion from the high stakes drama surrounding the looming presence of Voldemort. By the time the film finally jumps into the central battle of the series, director David Yates is able to deliver the goods with a thrilling, rousing, and powerful, climax that is smartly low-scale and content with being just a cog in the whole wheel. As a result, the Half-Blood Prince manages to take the story where Order of the Phoenix left off and set it up perfectly for the finale of this beloved series. Though not necessarily a great stand-alone work due to how much it relies upon the other films to have a story that makes any sense, it nonetheless works incredibly well in context, being one of the most pleasant and filled-with-wonder entries in the series since Prisoner of Azkaban changed the tone entirely.
For the first half of the film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince operates like a soap opera version of itself entitled Harry Potter and the Horny Teenagers. Will Ron finally wake up and make a move on Hermione? Oh poor Hermione, having to watch Ron kiss another girl! Oooo Harry is finally moving past that Asian girl whose named I do not know that they built up as a lover for him two films, only for her to stab him in the back last time. Of course it is Ginny though, those two are meant for each other! I wonder what will happen with that weird blonde girl though? Do I smell a second love triangle? In this game of musical chairs and hot potato that is teenage relationship, the Half-Blood Prince seems fully invested in divulging every single detail. Ironically, while this is exactly what I dislike about the series at times - too much focus on items that do not matter - it works here quite nicely. It is funny, cute, and oddly endearing as we watch them go through the works of teenage relationships. It is a reminder of their youth in the face of the horrors and challenges they must face in fighting Voldemort. As a brief calm before the storm that will come in the Deathly Hallows, the Half-Blood Prince makes this feel like the final summer before they all head off to college, likely to not see one another again. In this, the bittersweet and nostalgic charm is hard to deny as incredibly fun to watch.
By the time the film settles into its second half, the Half-Blood Prince makes good on the suggestions and hints regarding who the Half-Blood Prince could be with a tension-filled and atmospheric finale. As Dumbledore and Harry go into the cave, it feels like a last stand for an old gunslinger in a western and, as with that, it comes with every bit of the tension and anticipation. Featuring a chilling sequence of these humanoid creatures jumping out of the water and Dumbledore having to use fire against them, the scene is one with excellent production design and strong direction David Yates. After building up some tension regarding this locale and biding his time the whole film, Yates manages to make the whole wait worthwhile, while not over-exerting this film into becoming another grand battle between Voldemort and Harry. Instead, as a minor battle as part of the larger war, the Half-Blood Prince manages to be thrilling in its own right without stealing any thunder from the concluding journey. A poignant death and memorial sequence only furthers the film's accomplishments with powerful staging of the memorial and deeply compelling possibilities about where Snape's loyalty may in fact lie. Is he still a death-eater or is he working for the order as an informant? Smartly, the Half-Blood Prince leaves this mystery open, making the Deathly Hallows a film that is hard to not highly anticipate.
As always, the Half-Blood Prince is often quite beautiful look at with Yates' camera often finding truly stunning images, especially in the cave or in the aerial shot of the memorial. While this series is seriously milking those shots of the valley in the sunrise, it is hard to deny that it is not beautiful all the same. These Harry Potter films often use their special effects in the perfect way to create a beautiful shot and the Half-Blood Prince is no exception to that fact. Where the film falters, however, is often in the over-reliance on cuts. When Harry is attacked by the humanoid creatures in the cave, Yates' camera cuts repeatedly without moving Harry or actually showing anything. He just falls back, cuts, and then he is in a slightly different place an inch to the left. With about 10 cuts in a millisecond in this sequence, it is borderline headache-inducing. The same then occurs as Harry talks to Hermione in the castle with the camera desperately needing a fidget spinner to keep still. Spinning around, cutting, and changing angles, to a distracting degree, this possibly touching conversation between friends is turned in a distracting mess of camera work with Yates showing he has no idea how to just shoot a simple conversation.
Finally giving Alan Rickman more to do and allowing Snape to take center stage, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince also includes another strong appearance by Helena Bonham Carter and the welcomed addition of Jim Broadbent to the film, as the list of British legends in this cast only continues to grow. Never feeling the lack of a physical appearance Voldemort in the film, the Half-Blood Prince is an ominous and thrilling addition to the tale that may take a bit too long to get going, but in that teenage drama portion the film manages to become oddly endearing and charming. As a brief pause before things really get going in the Deathly Hallows, the Half-Blood Prince may not break too much new ground in this tale, but does just enough to entertain and create enough anticipation for its sequel, while standing on its own as a strong sequel.