I have to start by saying I’m not a Harry Potter fan—I’ve only read one of the books, I’ve seen the movies, but have always been left cold by the boy wizard with the scar on his forehead. As a result I wouldn’t know an Obliviator from a Hippogriff, but that doesn’t stop me from objectively looking at the movies.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a handsome film, with high production values and imaginative special effects that will make your eyeballs dance. The large cast includes fine actors like Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson (don’t blink or you’ll miss her), Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes and the majestic Michael Gambon all of whom prance about on beautifully designed sets in spectacular costumes.
It’s all top notch, the trouble is, I don’t really care.
I have found that throughout the franchise that the films have become more and more inside. As the plots thicken and the page count of the books rises to the 700 and 800 range the various filmmakers at the helm of the movies have struggled to present the material in a way that will keep Potterheads happy. How to get the essence of the books on screen, while still maintaining some kind of cinematic storytelling has always been a problem for the Potter directors, particularly as the books get denser and darker. Alfonso Cuarón pulled it off in the third installment, The Prisoner of Azkaban, but others haven’t always won the battle of presenting Potter lore in a way that would make sense to an outsider.
There’s a lot of info that goes into the stories, unusual people, places and names and of course Harry Potter fans love all that detail because they understand the references and feel a real connection with the characters. I would suggest though, that the new film probably won’t have much appeal for anyone who hasn’t read the books or made a study of the story.
Director David Yates seems to assume that the audience will know what’s going on, and makes no attempt to get the non-Potterheads caught up with the lingo or situation. In that way the movies have simply become big budget companion pieces to the books, designed to sell more wizard hats and magic wands.
Now before you try and cast an Antonin Dolohov’s Curse on me let me continue by saying that I know Potterites will enjoy this movie. It’s a bit talky for the first hour, but it does submerge the viewer in a dark and dangerous world where dementors lurk around every corner and people in authority don’t always have your best interests at heart.
When Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returns for his fifth year of wizardry studies at Hogwarts he soon discovers that he must bear the brunt of a smear campaign launched against him and the venerable head master Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). His classmates and the wizarding community in general have bought into the stories circulated to the newspapers by the Minister of Magic (Robert Hardy) that Potter is lying about the return of the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and are treating him like a pariah. The good Minister, you see, is concerned that Dumbledore is after his job and must discredit both the head master and his protégé to protect his post.
To keep an eye on Dumbledore and Potter the Minister brings in a new Defense against the Dark Arts instructor to Hogwarts. Professor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is a rule-spouting tyrant who mistreats the students and teaches a theory-based course that will leave her pupils woefully under prepared should they ever have to defend themselves in the presence of evil.
Harry, at the prompting of his best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), creates a rouge Defense against the Dark Arts class, hidden deep in the bowels of the school. He secretly trains a small group of students who adopt the name Dumbledore’s Army, who will help fight the astonishing battle that lay ahead.
The Order of the Phoenix may be the most subversive of all the Potter films, harboring as it does, a healthy disrespect for misplaced authority. It’s also the least playful. It’s a dark story in which Harry is in danger, both physically and mentally. Younger viewers may find some of the physical manifestations of danger a bit too intense—the Dementors are scary ghost like creatures who literally suck the life out of their victims—but they probably won’t get the mental anguish angle.
Teens will likely relate to Harry’s adolescent pangs of bitterness, anger and self pity, which are quite realistically portrayed. Harry’s growing up before our eyes, a fact made obvious through flashbacks to the first movie in which he looks like a mere babe in the woods and his issues are the same as teens all over the world. The only difference is most teens can’t hide under the cloak of invisibility when the going gets rough.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will please most Potter fans and confound non-Potterfiles who may wonder what the heck is going on.