Mark Reviews Movies

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX

3 and ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Matthew Lewis, Katie Leung, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton, Harry Melling, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw

MPAA Rating: PG-13  (for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images)

Running Time: 2:18

Release Date: 7/11/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

This is how to do a Harry Potter film right.  The screenplay understands what parts of the book are important, stands by them, and guides them in its own way.  The special effects marry into the action, look authentically fantastical, and have a wonderful imagination.  The look and feel of the film is more in line with Gothic fiction than pure fantasy—the real world vs. the fantastic world, which is a dark, disquieting, dangerous safe place.  There's a political dynamic just under the surface of the narrative, and for the first time in the series, we have a villain to loathe throughout.  Our hero himself is finally the full focus here, and he is no longer a bystander caught up in events beyond him but an active participant, a troubled soul, a cocky teenager, an ill-fated hero, a conflicted mind, and a kid trying to hold on to the only remaining family he's got left.  In other words, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix sees Harry Potter as a human being.  The credit primarily goes to screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (taking over for series regular Steve Kloves), whose adaptation of the longest (and best) book of the series reduces the 870 pages of J.K. Rowling's novel without cramming or sacrificing, and director David Yates, who effortlessly balances the humanity within the magic.

The film opens on a sunny day in the London suburb of Little Whinging.  Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is sitting alone on a swing, watching a mother and her child, when his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) comes around to taunt him.  Suddenly, it becomes dark (the film doesn't get bright again, by the by), and Harry and Dudley run for shelter in a tunnel, where they are accosted by Dementors, the hooded, floating guards of the wizard prison Azkaban.  Harry manages to fight them off with magic, but upon returning to his aunt and uncle (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths), he's notified by the Ministry of Magic that he has been expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for using magic outside of school.  Later that night, members of the Order of the Phoenix, a group that once fought against the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), take him to his godfather Sirius Black's (Gary Oldman) house, where he reunites with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint).  To keep from being expelled, Harry must face a hearing at the Ministry, and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) shows up to serve as his defense but leaves without a word to Harry after the young wizard is cleared of charges.

Harry's been angry this summer.  He saw Voldemort return and kill a schoolmate, knows things must be happening in the wizarding world, but does not hear from Dumbledore or his friends at all.  He's filled in: The Minister of Magic (Robert Hardy), so afraid of the implications of Voldemort's return, has dubbed Harry and Dumbledore liars in the press, saying the latter is trying to take over the government.  Enter Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a member of the Ministry who becomes not only the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher but also the Ministry's eyes, ears, and hand within Hogwarts.  She's a nasty customer, disguised all in pink.  Her office, where she sits over a literally torturous detention with Harry after he argues her belief that Voldemort has not returned, is decorated in cat plates.  She speaks in a sickeningly pleasant inflection—until one undermines her authority, that is.  Her and the Ministry's paranoia and scapegoating of Dumbledore and Harry have only one logical result: more laws.  An entire wall at Hogwarts becomes dedicated to posted educational decrees, an Inquisitorial Squad is established, and any attempt at actually doing magic to learn it is tantamount to treason.  To say there's a political edge to the film is a bit redundant, I suppose.

The story, obviously, is darker and more mature, and the film itself understands more than the others before it what it means to be Harry Potter.  The sense of isolation and conflict, the feeling of looming doom, and the need to live up to an idealized version of parents he never knew are always present, but they're offset by Ron and Hermione's friendship, Sirius' surrogate-fatherly advice, and, at one point, his nemesis and teacher Snape's (Alan Rickman) unwitting honesty when Harry accidentally sees his father as a schoolyard bully.  Living up to those who have gone before is a recurring theme here, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione establish Dumbledore's Army, an illegal extracurricular group that has Harry teaching his fellow students how to properly defend against evil.  They practice in a room, a photo of the original Order of the Phoenix, including Harry and klutzy Neville Longbottom's (Matthew Lewis) parents, watching over their progress.  There's an atmosphere of dread accompanying all of this.  The stakes are higher; Voldemort's presence is always there.  Harry can see Thestrals, creatures that only those who have witnessed death can see, and he has a recurring dream of a long hallway, a snake, and, on two occasions, an attack on a loved one.

There's the other end, too.  Harry describes his first kiss with crush Cho Chang (Katie Leung) simply as "wet."  His relationship with Sirius, sadly overlooked in the last film, gets the proper time here, and Sirius himself becomes a sad figure, locked up in his dead mother's house where a family tree tells of his mother's shame for him and his shame for his family.  The special effects manage to produce wonder, possibly because they're not the focus anymore, especially in two scenes of wizards flying through London on two different modes of transportation.  The returning cast, now so familiar to us, continues to shine, as do newcomers Imelda Staunton and Evanna Lynch as the dreamy Luna Lovegood, and there's a level of history to them.  When we see Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) standing outside of Harry's hearing, we know no good can come of it.  Daniel Radcliffe has really grown into the role of Harry, and whatever awkwardness may have been present in his earlier performances has disappeared.  Harry has become incredibly complex here—the anger, the loneliness, the desperation to hold on to something good—and Radcliffe shows himself more than worthy of the challenge.

By the time the climactic battle, where we see how violent and chaotic wizard dueling is, within the mysterious and aptly named Department of Mysteries, this has solidly become Harry's story.  The massive battle is thrilling, the fight between two great wizards that follows is inventive and exhilarating, but Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix's final conflict is internal, as Harry tries to overcome the darker elements of his nature against the influence of Voldemort.  It's on an entirely different, deeper level than we've seen before in this series, and so is the film.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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