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"A constant, highly engaging entry in the Harry Potter saga."
 
"Can the film stand alone and tell a complete story? Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end?"
"A grim and sober sociopolitical commentary on fascism, war, and propaganda."
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  


Cast

Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Albus Dumbledore: Michael Gambon
Severus Snape: Alan Rickman
Dolores Umbridge: Imelda Staunton
Bellatrix Lestrange: Helena Bonham Carter
Lord Voldemort: Ralph Fiennes
Sirius Black: Gary Oldman
Review July 2007

"There's a storm coming Harry, and we must be ready when she does," says Rubeus Hagrid, as the wizarding world teeters on the edge of a full-scale war in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." As if a pending war was not enough to worry about, Harry begins his fifth year in wizard exile, besmeared by the local paper and admonished for using magic to defend himself in public. With Hogwarts under a new authority and amidst a community that refuses to believe the Dark Lord has returned, Harry must choose his alliances carefully while training his friends in self defense and sacrifice. Under new direction and writing, "Order of the Phoenix" shifts into high adult gear, moving quickly out of adolescence and into the often cold and cynical world of adulthood. Innocence, wonderment, and playground fun have all been replaced with fear, betrayal, and death. Although the longest book to be adapted, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" represents the shortest film in the series. As a result, incongruities in plot and character abound. And yet, in spite of these shortcomings, "Order of the Phoenix" remains a constant, highly engaging entry in the Harry Potter saga.

After narrowly escaping an encounter with the Dementors by using magic in the presence of a Muggle, Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for year five only to discover that the magical community has made him an outcast. In particular, the local wizarding newspaper, The Daily Prophet , has sensationalized his situation. And Harry seeks refuge with Sirius Black and the Order of the Phoenix, an underground organization plotting against the Dark Lord. On the verge of being expelled and admonished by the Ministry of Magic, Harry is given a reprieve, thanks to the defense of Albus Dumbledore. But it's such a small victory compared to what the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge has concocted. In denial about the return of Lord Voldemort, Fudge employs a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Dolores Umbridge, to watch over Dumbledore and the student body.

Umbridge's tactics are ruthless and impractical. As she slowly takes over Hogwarts, the curriculum begins to suffer, to the point where rules and regulations supersede magical instruction. To fight back, Harry, Ron, and Hermione form Dumbledore's Army, a covert organization with Harry as instructor, to continue teaching the fine arts of magic and self-defense. In the interim, Harry begins to have dark visions, the most significant of which is that of Sirius, being held captive and tortured. He also stumbles upon a powerful prophecy about his very own future. In a desperate attempt to rescue his only living relative and vindicate himself, Harry solicits the help of the Order of the Phoenix and puts his student's preparation to the ultimate test - a deadly confrontation at the Department of Mysteries with the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort himself.

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" represents a different direction for the film franchise, welcoming television stalwart, David Yates, to the director's chair. Prior to "Phoenix," Yates' best known work was on the BAFTA award winning television serial "Sex Traffic," about the business of prostitution in America and Europe and the impact of those involved. And his BAFTA nominated political thriller, "State of Play." Chosen for his ability to construct gritty and emotional drama, Yates also excels at incorporating political and social allegory. And "Order of the Phoenix" is rife with those qualities - a tyrannical dictator obsessed with rules, a group of rebels training underground, a slanderous and sensationalized media, a flawed judicial system that fails to seek out the truth, etc. Going beyond the simplicity of good versus evil, "Order" encompasses complex adult themes like oppression, cynicism, and paranoia. And Yates is adept at bringing the cauldron to a boiling point.

Much like the previous installments, "Order of the Phoenix" benefits from high caliber special effects, grandiose set designs, and England's finest acting troupe. As the line between the Muggle and the wizarding worlds is crossed, Harry and the gang swoosh through the air on broomsticks past Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Canary Wharf, and London Eye. They interact with giants, centaurs, and house elves. And they visit magnificent and elaborate set pieces as the atrium of the Ministry of Magic, the London Underground, and Dolores Umbridge's pink pussycat plated office.

Along with the superb cast of returning characters a la Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, etc., "Order of the Phoenix" showcases the talents of Imelda Staunton, whose High Inquisitor, Dolores Umbridge, sets the tone in a nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of way. Perfectly passive aggressive, Staunton's character isn't what she seems. For underneath the petite, pretty in pink attire lies a delightfully hellish taskmaster out for blood and power. As her shrill, authoritative voice conveys, "I told you, Mr. Potter, naughty children deserve to be punished." On the flip side, Helena Bonham Carter also joins the cast as Bellatrix Lestrange, a character who is precisely what she seems - an evil witch who uses her power to kill without remorse. And Evanna Lynch appears as the delicate and ethereal Luna Lovegood.

However, the biggest challenge for sequel adaptations like "Order of the Phoenix" is how to become more than filler material, more than a transition from point A to point B. Can the film stand alone and tell a complete story? Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end? It's the same predicament that befell "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," a story whose primary purpose was to segue to the finale, i.e. lots of plodding through the highlands and forests with very little substance. For fans of Harry Potter, this may seem irrelevant because they would just as soon see every minute and every waking hour, no matter how trite. However, in "Order," there is the sense that elements are included only for future installments' sakes rather than for plot value in the current adventure.

New writer to the series, Michael Goldenburg admirably attempts to condense the nearly 900 pages of story into a two-hour feature film. In doing so, plot specifics such as the house elves, the school prefects, Ron's Quidditch exploits, Sirius' two-way mirror, etc. are omitted, leaving the cohesion of the final elements a bit incongruous. Many scenes are red herrings, many characters such as Luna Lovegood are inconsequential, and key plot points such as the significance of the Order of the Phoenix are glossed over so rapidly as to confuse even the most ardent of fans. Oftentimes vacant and vapid, the story provokes more questions than it answers. As in the end, when Harry says incompletely, "We've got something he doesn't have. We've got something worth fighting for."

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is a grim and sober sociopolitical commentary on fascism, war, and propaganda. In the film, Harry is subjected to such bitterness and betrayal that his only hope for survival is through rebellion and anarchy, dismissing everything once held as Hogwart's sacred. All of this plays very well with director David Yates' instincts, creating a defiant, emotional disturbance in audiences as well as that of Harry himself. Although plagued with questionable plot and character inclusions and exclusions, the film sustains interest because of great characterizations by its cast, dynamic set pieces, and magical, wand whizzing effects. For these reasons alone, audiences will find excitement. But for Harry, those thrills are long gone.



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