Another year, another Harry Potter movie.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban fulfilled all box office hopes, raking in $92.6 million in its first three days. (That's the second-best three-day-opening ever, behind Spider-man's $114 million.) More surprising was its critical reception. While devoted fans of J.K. Rowling's best-selling series of novels are upset by screenwriter Steve Kloves' abridgement of the storyline, most mainstream film critics are celebrating this third film in the series as the best so far.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, noticeably more mature) and his friends are young teenagers now, and they're dealing with more serious matters. Harry is more confident in his talents, and bolder. He's quicker to use magic to humiliate his family, quicker to break the school rules to investigate shadowy matters, and quicker to confront his enemies. There are the first glimmers of romance between his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as clear signs of "girl-power" audacity in Hermione's willingness to stand up to the school bullies.

When this episode's threat against Harry arises, this time in the form of escaped prisoner Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Harry and his friends find themselves entangled in a complicated web of cover-ups and conspiracies. They receive hints, hindrances, and help from familiar faces like Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon replacing Richard Harris), and the new teacher on campus—Professor Lupin (the brilliant David Thewlis). The film gathers to an involving and complicated climax involving an enchanting winged creature called a Hippogriff, a ferocious werewolf, creepy flying phantoms called Dementors, and a magic trick that shows ...

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