Is Harry out of Order?‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' flys into theaters
As his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry approaches, 15-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in full-blown adolescence, complete with regular outbursts of angst-ridden anger and a powerful urge to rebel.
After a bleak and magic-less summer on Privet Drive, Harry returns to Hogwarts to find his friends and fellow schoolmates have left him in the dark. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) didn't write to update him with the latest wizardry gossip and now that he's back at Hogwarts, professor Dumbledore won't even speak to him.
And that's just the beginning of his misfortune. Thanks to The Daily Prophet (the leading source for news in wizardry and witchcraft), much of the wizarding world is in denial about the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). No one seems to believe Harry (or the venerable Albus Dumbledore) about the Dark Lord's return to power, not even the Ministry of Magic.
Minister Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) suspects that Dumbledore is using these claims of The Dark Lord's return as a means to over-throw him as Minister. In retaliation, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is appointed by the Ministry in order to keep an eye on Hogwarts.
This professor, Delores Jane Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), is your typical fascist militant that attempts to clean up Hogwarts' act by enforcing some new rules and regulations. She basically makes life a living hell for Harry and his fellow wizards-in-training, as well as making it her personal duty to replace Dumbledore as head master.
All of this while The Order of the Phoenix, a secret assembly sworn against Voldemort, is using its vast array of wizards and witches magical abilities to combat the Dark Lord. Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) along with the Weasleys and professor Lupin recruit Harry, Ron and Hermione in order to form an army against Voldemort's dark forces.
As a result of professor Umbridge's new teaching technique (which involves no practicing of spells in the classroom), the kids need a teacher who can train them to affectively defend themselves against Voldemort if he should choose to attack them. Harry is of course nominated and begins holding secret training sessions with some of Hogwarts' finest in an attempt to build a squad strong enough to face off with Voldemort.
As you can imagine, there is an eventual showdown between light and dark, good and evil, the rebellion and the empire, leading to a satisfactory ending that leaves us yearning for 2008's ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'
Director David Yates has proven himself worthy of the crown, and though his vision of the wizarding world isn't as spellbinding as Alfonso Cuarón's (who directed ‘Prisoner of Azkaban'), it's certainly dark and more somber in spirit. I also think screenwriter Michael Goldenberg deserves recognition for a fresh new perspective. I'm not knocking Steve Kloves' imagining of the first four, but having seen ‘Order,' you can look back at ‘Goblet' and see that his writing and plotting was beginning to get stale and predictable.
The performances of our spell-casting trio are becoming better with each adaptation it seems. Daniel Radcliffe wins us over with his angsty, emo-Potter and Grint and Watson are just as likeable as ever in their supporting roles. They don't quite look like 15-year-olds though, as it looks like Grint and Potter have been lifting some weights down at the Hogwarts gym. This is excusable however, as their increasing age in the books allows room for their increasing ages in real life. At least it's not like ‘American Pie' or other ‘teen comedies' where actors in their late twenties are playing high school juniors.
As for the special effects, it's hit or miss with me. Throughout the entire Potter franchise it seems that some of the effects (the more practical ones) are very impressive, whereas the creatures almost always look fake and lack the photo-realism that fantasy kinsmen ‘Narnia' and ‘Lord of the Rings' have possession of. In ‘Order,' however the battle between Voldemort and the forces of good is beautifully done - truly jaw dropping. However, other aspects, like the introduction of creatures such as centaurs and giants, look plastic and clearly fake.
My main problem with the film is that, for the most part, it was pretty dull and obstinately slow. It seems Goldenberg and Yates wanted to get all of the exposition out of the way so the last act of the film would dazzle the audience. It works, but the first two acts could have been helped out by a good dose of magical action - or at least more Snape (the always fantastic Alan Rickman).
All in all, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' is a worthy addition to the Potter film franchise. Director David Yates took an 800-page novel and some how boiled it down to its essence in one feature-length film. While fanatics of the book series will no doubt complain about several plotlines that were left out, I would argue ‘Order' is one of the better films of the series and shows promise for Yate's take on ‘Half-Blood Prince.'