Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

When attacked by ghastly Dementors, young wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) breaks rule by using magic in public...amongst Muggles, and is threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts. Meanwhile, the increasingly iron-fisted Ministry of Magic, unimpressed by Harry’s forewarnings of imminent danger from Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), appoints a new Professor of the Dark Arts, Margaret Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), and her first call of order (by order of Minister Robert Hardy) is to outlaw defensive magic, firstly by discrediting Harry’s mentor Dumbledore, whose influence Hardy is paranoid about. She is also keeping a particularly close watch over young Harry and his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). Somewhere in all of this, Harry experiences his first kiss with the unfortunately named Cho Chang (Katie Leung), but ultimately he begins teaching Hogwarts students magic spells himself, in secret (playing out in a “Dead Poets Society”-like fashion). Gary Oldman is back as Harry’s protective Godfather Sirius Black, as is Robbie Coltrane as friendly giant Hagrid. Once again, nefarious-looking Jason Isaacs turns up as the secondary villain Lucius Malfoy, while we wait for the real baddie to turn up (Voldemort), which of course, he barely does.

2007 David Yates (previously a British TV veteran) entry into the popular series of cinematic J.K. Rowling adaptations concerning the adolescent wizard, is a major step up from the pretty terrible “Goblet of Fire”, which seemed to have no plot whatsoever. This one does, and it’s also got a terrific Staunton in the role she was born to play, a kind of Margaret Thatcher meets School Headmistress character. The theme of repression and government/Church interference into areas of Education and adolescence is a fascinating one, and whenever Staunton (who is also very funny) is on screen, the film works very well. And even when the film has a set piece, it still drives the plot, unlike in the previous film. The courtroom scene here is a good example of this.

It’s not all sunshine and roses- the opening scene is the dullest by far (Ugh, with Harry’s insipid family), some of it is a bit confusing for people like me who haven’t read any of the books, Michael Gambon is simply miscast (and seemingly bored shitless) as Dumbledore, Fiennes’ Voldemort is still mostly absent and weak as piss. Meanwhile, the whole finale is so “Revenge of the Sith” that George Lucas should sue for copyright infringement, and whenever the three major characters (Harry, Hermione and Ron) occupy a scene together they all seem to have a disconnect, the camaraderie they shared in the first two films (though Hermione has always been a bit aloof and smug to me) seems gone. Oh well, this is the fifth film, no time for character development I suppose. Dame Maggie Smith and Emma Thompson fans need not bother watching this one. Rickman fans, though he is wasted, will still appreciate his impeccable line delivery. And while we’re on the leads, well, there’s a bit of improvement. Radcliffe has always been the best of the three and given the meatiest part, he’s fine as always here. Grint has improved as an actor, but Ron kinda fades into the background this time. Watson is still the weakest of the three, but her ‘Ta-da! I’m acting!’ tendencies are a little less annoying this time.

Overall, though, this film is definitely a step up from last time (and probably ahead of “The Prisoner of Azkaban”), and full of interestingly doomy and gloomy imagery, such as a cool skeletal horse and a creepy blond girl who would make Wednesday Addams run for cover. The CGI is all pretty good (even the centaurs!), with Hagrid’s troll-like half-brother the only sore spot. It’s not the best in the series (unlike most people, I think “The Chamber of Secrets” is the best), but it is quite a bit of fun, especially if you’re a fan (which, 20-25 years ago, I probably would’ve been).

Rating: B-


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