Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review

(3.5 STARS)

Finally, the Harry Potter series has really come alive. Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment of J.K. Rowling’s hugely popular series, is far and away the best of the bunch so far. Now that the kiddy stuff has been dispensed of, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and all the others can begin dealing with the real threat each one of them faces every single day. Throw in some genuinely interesting political parallels and a devilishly unlikeable new villain, and you’ve got a motion picture that’s—you guessed it—magical.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is still being haunted by the events of the past few months in his life. A friend died right in front of him, and the man who tried to kill him as a boy, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), has returned to wreak havoc on the wizarding world and try to finish the deed once and for all. When the film opens, Harry is shocked to find dementors—creepy, soul-sucking creatures—upon his aunt and uncle’s doorstep. He dispels of them in time, but is expelled from school as a result. Harry also must deal with the impertinence of the Ministry of Magic, which is unwilling to admit Voldemort’s return, and resorts to smearing the Harry and his headmaster’s, Professor Dumblebdore’s (Michael Gambon), reputations.

Such is the scene when Harry is taken away from his aunt and uncle’s and thrust into the world of the Order of the Phoenix, the underground group meant to combat the forces of evil at work. At Phoenix headquarters are all the usual gang—Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Professors Lupin (David Thewlis) and Moody (Brendan Gleeson), as well as the entire Weasley family and various Hogwarts professors, including the always-up-to-something Professor Snape (Alan Rickman). The Order’s primary mission right now: Protect Harry and stop Voldemort from obtaining a mysterious weapon he didn’t have last time he held power. But doing so won’t be easy, as the forces of darkness are invading Harry’s mind, and it seems the only man who can help him isn’t Dumbledore—it’s Snape.

Really, The Order of the Phoenix’s plot is too intricate to develop it in a review like this. I didn’t even touch on new Hogwarts professor and Ministry of Magic lackey Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who also happens to be evil incarnate. Nor did I mention Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), the spacey new friend of Harry and the gang. And, of course, the raging hormones of the Hogwarts students take up a great deal of the film’s surprisingly short (at least for a Potter film) running time. But all of these are just distractions. The real meat of the plot is Harry’s struggle to remain strong when everything seems to be spiraling out of control. He’s always been something of a loner, and as he loses more and more hope, he lashes out against those who care about him. But if he thinks he’s actually in it alone, he’s wrong.

The final 45 minutes of Order of the Phoenix are just breathless. From the massive battle between the Order and the Death Eaters to the climactic confrontation between Voldemort and Dumbledore, from Harry’s becoming possessed to the death of a key figure, we are completely absorbed and mesmerized by what’s going on.

It helps to finally have the actors give performances worthy of the material. Daniel Radcliffe is just outstanding. In the fifth book, Harry becomes a bit insufferable, but in the film, he’s a sympathetically tortured soul. We get where he’s coming from and why he’s struggling in his own skin. Rupert Grint goes back to not having much to do, but he excels at this sort of quiet support for Harry. It’s a tough thing to pull off—making yourself stand out while not having a very emotive role—but Grint proves himself up for the challenge. Emma Watson is good, too. She’s the weakest of the three (many of her readings still feel forced), but she doesn’t bring down the picture at all, and I guess that’s better than nothing.

While I thought the fifth book in the series was bloated, I always thought it would make a solid film. It’s a very cinematic story, complete with action scenes and much darker themes than anything we had previously seen from the series. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (stepping in for Steve Kloves, writer of the first four in the series) does a great job of whittling the material down, and the rest of the crew transforms these words into a beautiful piece of entertainment.

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