I admitted in my review of 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I hadn’t turned a page of a single Harry Potter book, and things haven’t changed since. Nevertheless, I immensely enjoyed Goblet of Fire as a chapter of its own, loaded with action, wit, and wonder. It’s very easy to see why millions have latched on to this series.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a bit more of a mixed bag, however. It often feels like that chapter you sometimes skip because you just want to figure out what happens next. Aside from a darker, more sinister tone and a few amazing set pieces, there isn’t a whole lot to take away from it. Even the special effects aren’t up to the par of the previous entries, which adds to the disjointed feel that encompasses the entire project.
Harry (Radcliffe) is entering his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and things couldn’t be crazier. First off, the Ministry of Magic are ignoring Harry and Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) warnings of the return of Voldemort (Fiennes). The Ministry is doing everything in their power to discredit Harry, including the gradual takeover of Hogwarts via Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). Think of the worst teacher you’ve ever had, now multiply that by several hundred. It isn’t long before Harry and his classmates take things into their own hands to prepare for Voldemort’s impending arrival.
I didn’t walk in knowing anything about the Order of the Phoenix and I didn’t know much when I walked out. Plot points regarding it are curiously missing as first-time series director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg seem far more concerned with special effects sequences, jerky flashbacks, and limited exposition. The fundamental problem is that there are simply too many characters and subplots, even for a 138 minute feature. Harry’s longtime pals, Hermione Granger (Watson) and Ron Weasley (Grint), almost feel like afterthoughts. New character Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena) seems initially intriguing, but her story is forgotten by the third act.
The special effects are similarly inconsistent. An early sequence in which Harry and the clan are flying on their brooms looks unbelievably amateurish, especially considering the sizable budget. A later sequence in which the group is cornered in an old warehouse with breakables stacked to the ceiling is spellbinding and gorgeous. The small touches are added on flawlessly, particularly the orbs and colorful streaks as Harry teaches his fellow pupils the ways of the wizard.
Though a bit older, Daniel Radcliffe maintains the innocence and glee that won him the part in the first place. Here he is given his most authoritative script yet, and he’s winning in the role. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint now seem younger than Harry, but they have their parts down to a science by now. The rest of the supporting cast is nothing short of incredible, with Imelda Staunton chewing her part for all its worth. She is endlessly unlikable as Ulbridge, and that’s to her credit. Seasoned pros such as Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and Brendan Gleeson reprise their characters to much success.
In a series this good, there’s bound to be a mild low point and it seems certain that Order of the Phoenix is it. The presumably final two films are bound to be packed with developments and fates for our heroes and villains, but little of utmost importance is on display here. We’re five films deep now, so you already know if this is for you.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 138 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images.
Theatrical Release: July 11, 2007
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg. Based upon the novel by J.K. Rowling.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter