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After a disastrous summer with the Dursleys, including an encounter with the Dementors, Harry is shunned by friends upon returning to Hogwarts, after the return of Lord Voldemort and no one believes him. He starts his fifth year while new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge refuses to teach them defensive spells while refuting Harry's claims of the Dark Lord's return. So Harry sets out, with Ron and Hermione, to start up "Dumbledore's Army" to battle evil forces and prepare the fellow young witches and wizards for the extraordinary journey that lies ahead.
How's this for strange: some of the biggest problems critics had with "Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire" were that it was too dark and too long. Most of them thought it was losing touch with its target audience - the young people - and drowning in its own run time. Now, the biggest problems critics seem to have with "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix" seem to be that it is too dark and not long enough. True, this is the shortest entry in the entire series, clocking in at around 2 hours and 18 minutes, but let's turn most of our attention to that second problem. Have critics still not realized that these films are getting darker and darker because the books, themselves, are getting darker and darker? "Harry Potter" is a dark franchise. It deals with witches and wizardry and evil and the battle of good against evil. This is not a franchise for kids only. This is a franchise that appeals to both kids and adults in equal numbers. As the character of Harry Potter gets older, he takes on the traits of an adolescent, and that means angst and anger and all of the other goodies that accompany the typical teenager. Just because he can ride a broomstick doesn't mean he doesn't have hormones and hidden resentments. If he didn't, then I would be amazed. I do agree that I would have liked "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix" to be longer - I always enjoyed the films that bordered on three hours; primarily because there's a lot of material to cover here in this film and it does seem rather rushed, at times. Otherwise, why are you picking on Harry?
The film starts us off with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) defending his cousin Dudley against two Dementors. No one knows why Dementors were loose from Azkaban, but Harry is in deep trouble for using magic in front of a muggle, something that could possibly get him expelled. He is taken to the home of his godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), where the Order of the Phoenix are meeting to discuss Voldemort and the refusal of the Minister of Magic (Robert Hardy) to believe of the Dark Lord's return. In truth, the Minister has taken to dragging Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) through the mud instead, calling them liars. He even installs a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to keep an eye on things at Hogwarts. Most of the conflict comes between Umbridge and the students. She doesn't want any practical magic taught at the school, while the young wizards and witches want to learn how to defend themselves. Harry takes it upon himself to teach them secretly. Harry even finds his way to his first kiss. All the while, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is gaining strength and sharing a growing mental connection with Harry, one that Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) tries to remove. All of the characters from the previous films return in some form, even if just for a moment. The end of the film is a showdown at the Ministry of Magic, with a good old fashioned wizard's duel.
There's a lot to admire about "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix". Director David Yates, who is also responsible for the next film, is delicately attempting to make the films darker and tap into the real life emotions of the teenage stars. He realizes how quickly they are aging and he is trying to make it as believable as possible. Yates also attempts to give us a glimpse of just about every major character from the first four films - even if only momentarily. He is doing this to keep them in our minds for the next couple of films - and whether or not he directs them or not, that is a fine idea. I had forgotten all about David Thewlis and the character of Remus Lupin until I finally saw him again - the first time since "The Prisoner of Azkaban". Characters like Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) Draco (Tom Felton) are given less to do than they've ever had, but other characters like Sirius Black, Dolores Umbridge and Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) are given far more. So, it all evens out. And we know that the characters looked over somewhat in this film will be brought back to the limelight in the next one. Despite all of this, I also enjoyed how the two worlds blended - Hogwarts and London. There are many scenes with the wizards trying to remain hidden while out in 'the real world'. It was a nice touch to see them worried about being spotted whilst riding broomsticks over Big Ben. And the final showdown at the Ministry of Magic is the best sequence in any "Harry Potter" film to date, packed with just enough energy and dazzling effects to keep us on the edges of our seats.
A virtual 'who's who' of British performance, the "Harry Potter" films are great for allowing really amazing and classically trained actors the chance to have a load of fun. No exception. Imelda Staunton is fantastic as Dolores Umbridge, the perfect choice for the character and the most fun in the entire film as the over-the-top villainess. Gary Oldman gets far more to do as Sirius Black in this film, and he handles it all very well - as do Michael Gambon as Dumbledore and Jason Isaacs returning as Lucious Malfoy. But, the kids typically carry the film. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are featured less in this film than before and have far less to do, but they're obviously growing as actors and with their characters. Daniel Radcliffe, however, makes the biggest leaps and bounds. He is really growing into the character well and his talent level is surging with each new picture. He handles the angst and the anger of Harry rather well, but still keeps the same quirkiness that has always made hikm the perfect choice for Harry. But, how could I not mention Ralph Fiennes, who is in the film only briefly, but is able to convey so much with the character of Voldemort. He made me leave the theatre aching for the next film, just so I could see what he would do next. Helena Bonham Carter pops up as Bellatrix Lestrange, on escape from Azkaban, and is all eyes and very much over-the-top - but I think it works. The jury is still out, but I think it works.
The darkness doesn't worry me - the films will get much darker. The run time wasn't a huge problem for me, though I did want more. I am worried for one reason. I have always enjoyed the latest "Harry Potter" film more than the one before it. That is not the case with "The Order of the Phoenix". I thought "The Goblet of Fire" was better, on the whole - but that's because it was really a far more important entry. It introduced us to Voldemort the way we know him now. It killed off the first major character in the series. It was a film that had many more places to go than the new one. So, I don't worry too much - just a little. My hope is that - as good as David Yates is - they bring in some fresh ideas for "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince". I would love to see Alfonso Cuaron back for another round. I just don't want to see the series become boring or redundant or go somewhere not set up by the other films. "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix" is a fine entry into the series and the franchise, but it lacks the overall zip and pop of the previous films. If I had to rank them, it would be my least favorite thus far. However, I enjoyed the others so much, it's not that huge of an underdog. I like where the characters are going and I like how they are getting there, I just wish they had more things to do along the way. Until the next one...
- added June 20, 2009 at 11:35pm
I found this installment to be rather lacking. It
really did feel like a Cliff Notes version of the
book, and I probably would have been horribly
confused in parts if I had seen this before
reading its basis. What bugged me the most was
that foreshadowing was kept to a minimum: a
seemingly random event would occur and would only
become relevant for thirty seconds later on. Many
of the scenes felt like disjointed snippets of a
larger story that had nothing to do with the
snippets placed before and after them.
The visuals, however, were quite stunning. Like
all the Harry Potter movies, the Order of the
Phoenix is beautiful and filled with enough small
details in the background that multiple viewings
would not be wasted.
It was a good
movie, but I'd recommend the book much more. It
deserves a 7 or 7.5 out of 10.