David Yates has done something impressive – he’s come into a series of movies that has been getting better and better and has continued the trend! Order of the Phoenix may the most exposition heavy episode in the Harry Potter series as it deals with Harry’s adolescent problems and the continuing battle with a villain that no one wants to believe is back. Yates has taken the longest volume in the series and turned it into the sleekest, most effective film in the series…
The film opens with Dudley [Harry Melling] and his buddies taunting Harry [Daniel Radcliffe] until the sun vanishes behind nasty clouds and two Dementors appear. Though the claim is later made that Muggles can’t see Dementors, Dudley certainly seems to see the one that chases him down before Harry uses the Patronus Charm to save them.
From there it’s a hop, skip and a floo ‘til Harry faces a hearing [trial, more like] for using his magic illegally [and in front of a Muggle, to boot]. The hearing is moved up unexpectedly but Dumbledore [Michael Gambon] – who was three hours early, just by chance – happens into the room and proceeds to provide a witness to the attack, forcing the Ministry to clear Harry of all charges.
This embarrassment forces Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge [Robert Hardy] to resort to appointing Professor Dorothy Umbridge [Imelda Staunton] to the position of Instructor for Hogwarts’ Defense Against The Dark Arts class. Umbridge, in her bright pink ensemble may look funny, but she’s as nasty a bit of work as they come – and soon has the school become a place of subjugation rather than learning.
Between his problems at home – Dudley’s state after the Demtor attack gets Harry thrown out, more or less – and the murder of Cedric in the previous film combine with the burden of being thought a liar to provoke the expected response. For the first third of the film, Harry is surly and angry – and Dumbledore, after championing him at his hearing, seems to have distanced himself from the young wizard.
All the key elements of the book are here: the Dementors; the escape of ten Death Eaters from Azkaban; Umbridge becoming the High Inquisitor at Hogwarts; Dumbledore’s Army. What’s missing is the majority of the subplots and details from the novel. Writer Michael Goldenberg concentrated almost exclusively on Harry’s emotional arc as the spine of the movie. To that end, there even a few added scenes – the most effective of which is a sort of father/son scene between Harry and his godfather, Sirius Black [Gary Oldman].
At 138 minutes, Order of the Phoenix is the shortest Harry Potter film to date. Because of its tone and the amount of exposition required to set up the last two books, it should, by rights, be tedious. Because of Goldenberg’s intelligence in shaping the script, and David Yates’ deft touch as director, it does not. Most moviegoers probably won’t even notice that there’s no Quidditch, for example.
Also, for the first time, the trio of young stars [Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson] don’t just hold their own with the crème de la crème of British acting, they are equals. Yates pulls an astonishing effort from Radcliffe, especially. Watching Harry snap at Ron and Hermione is as uncomfortable as if they were real friends in the real world. That the three make these scenes as powerful as they are is a sign of how far they’ve come since 1997.
Staunton, too, gets high marks for hiding Umbridge’s loathing and disdain between a sugary sweet smile and slightly fluffy demeanor before the iron maiden in her comes to play. Warwick Davis, Emma Thompson and Maggie Smith [among others] are barely present, but add immensely to the film’s atmosphere. Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange is as giddily, crazily evil as the character should be and bodes well for her appearance in The Half-Blood Prince.
Mention should also be made of Evanna Lynch, a non-actor who said she was the only person to play Luna Lovegood. She’s right! Lynch captured Luna’s vacant-but-not-really character perfectly.
Naturally, the CG effects for the film are of the highest standard. Both the Dementors and the Thestrals [the bat-winged creatures who draw the carriages from the train to the school] are cool and effective. Being a Harry Potter movie, we expect nothing less.
Thematically, the main arc is Harry’s coming of age, both in terms of dealing with adolescence and in terms of discovering that he really is capable to going toe-to-toe with Voldemort [Ralph Fiennes]. There are somewhat sublimated arcs that deal with government approaches to education and the government failing to see a threat when it’s staring them in the face [think Neville Chamberlain’s peace pact with Nazi Germany – though there are certainly present-day parallels if you look hard enough].
Overall, though, what matters is that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is [to borrow a British phrase] a ripping yarn that holds the attention of as varied an audience as I’ve seen in a movie theater.
Final Grade: A
EM Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 07/11/07