Rating: 3 Pulses
Daniel Radcliffe. Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by TKTKTK
Once a sprightly optimist, Harry Potter (Radcliffe) enters his fifth cinematic adventure, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as a dour adolescent chock full of anguish. It seems (to reference Vince Vaughn in Swingers) that our baby’s all grown up.
Harry’s spiral into this darkening abyss has been forthcoming. His universe is changing. He’s no longer the wizard wunderkind. As The Order of the Phoenix opens, he knows the sinister Lord Voldemort (Fiennes) looms, and a beleaguered Harry begins to show signs of depravity.
The Ministry of Magic has installed a new headmaster at Hogwarts in order to discredit Harry’s odious assertions about the return of He Who Can Not Be Named. The appointed principal in pink, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton, channeling Margaret Thatcher), assures everything is fine and even goes so far as to expel the use of magic in the hallowed halls.
While the unfolding of these events is a necessary step in this epic odyssey, regrettably, the filmmakers made one crucial decision I take umbrage with. Director David Yates and his team follow said headmaster’s suggestion, zapping the magic and fun out of this chapter.
With every major character cast aside, Harry’s gloominess contaminates the entire film. Chivalrous friends Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) idly stand by as Harry wearily rallies the repressed students against the arrogant administration.
The Hogwarts’ rebellion eventually climaxes with a confrontation against Voldemort and his newly assembled henchmen, but the payoff feels rushed.
With that said, there are a few visceral pleasures here. There’s a bevy of English actors on display (Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, etc.) and all deliver fine, albeit brief, performances. The effects are seamless, never overwhelming the action.
Yates will return for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I think he deserves another crack at it. This massive undertaking represented his first Hollywood production, and there is little denying The Order of the Phoenix is a well-crafted film.
However, if the series continues to dolefully plod along to the inevitable showdown, I’ll be left wondering what captured our imagination in the first place.