© 2007 Ray Wong
The darkest and most adult of the franchise (earning itself a PG-13 rating), The Order of the Phoenix is an ambitious undertaking, crossing over to a more kids-unfriendly neighborhood while trying to maintain the wonderment of the series.
After Cedric's death, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is having trouble coping. An attack by the Dementors, while Harry is spending the summer with the Dursleys, forces Harry to use magic in front of the muggles. Harry is promptly expelled from Hogwarts for violating the wizardry code of conduct. An underground group of witches and wizards, who call themselves the Order of the Phoenix, come to the rescue. There, Harry unites with his godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman).
Harry's expulsion is overturned at a hearing at the Ministry of Magic. However, the Ministry of Magic does not believe Harry when he says Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. They send Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as the new teacher of Defense Against Dark Art to interfere with Hogwarts matter. Forbidden by Umbridge to defend themselves, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron convince Harry to go underground and form a group called Dumbledore's Army and teach themselves. When Umbridge discovers Dumbledore's Army, she forces Dumbledore to resign and she takes over Hogwarts with an iron fist.
Meanwhile, Harry is having nightmares, and in one of them, he feels that he is the one who attacks Ron's (Rupert Grint) father. When Harry dreams that Voldemort is attacking Sirius at the Ministry of Magic, he's determined to rescue him, despite Hermione's warning that it may be a trap. Once there, they're trapped by the Death Eaters until the Order of the Phoenix shows up. A battle ensures.
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter series) has matured as an actor through this series. In this film, the story rests much more heavily on his shoulders, and he's done a good job conveying Harry's angst, confusion and excitement. Emma Watson and Ruper Grint have less to do in this film than previously, mostly retreating to the background as Harry's sidekicks. Their innocence is still evident, but you have a feeling that they're finally coming of age.
Gary Oldman (Batman Begins) reprises his role as Sirius Black. His performance is more subdue and peripheral here, given the complexity of the plot and the large cast of characters, as well as the focus of the film being on Harry and Dumbledore. Alan Rickman (Sweeney Todd) continues to have fun playing Professor Snape, and in one scene reveals a lot of what the character is about. Michael Gambon (The Good Sheperd) is serviceable as Dumbledore, but he seems to be losing that twinkle that makes the wizard such a beloved character. And Ralph Fiennes (Land of the Blind) is still nasty as Lord Voldemort.
Imelda Staunton (Nanny McPhee) deftly personifies Dolores Umbridge, what with her frilly pink dresses, tiny teacups, and kitten plates on the walls. She uses her diminutive size and wicked smile to add that needed spark in Umbridge's evilness. By contrast, Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd) plays Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange with uninspired snarling and witch-laughs.
Writer Michael Goldberg (Peter Pan) has the daunting task of turning JK Rowling's behemoth novel (at over 800 pages, it is the longest of the series) into a two-hour movie. Obviously, he has to cut a lot, to the horror of fans everywhere. I think he's done a good job condensing the complex plot into management threads that are easy to follow. He keeps the expository dialogue to a minimum and moves the plot along briskly. What he sacrifices, though, is the intricate relationships because the characters, as well as some significant character development. For example, we're told of the close bond between Sirius and Harry, but we really don't see much of it, or feel it -- that makes the final moments of the film devoid of the emotional punch we expect. He also focuses too much on Harry's plot line, cutting out Hermione's and Ron's subplots, for example. It may have helped make the story more focused, but it definitely takes away some of the emotional elements as we've come to care about these characters so much.
Director David Yates (Rank) is an interesting choice to direct both Phoenix and the upcoming Half-Blood Prince. With his mostly-TV work, He lacks certain pedigree. However, Yates proves to have the technical skills to pull it off. Continuing the dark tone of Goblet of Fire, the film has a look and feel of a horror film: dark, moody settings, odd camera angles and movements. There are parts of the movie that may be too frightening for small children. The pacing is brisk and effective. The cinematography seems dark and muted, certainly a stylistic choice but I am not sure if I agree with it. I think the material is dark enough that he doesn't need to enhance it by turning the ambience down. The special effects, in general, are very good, especially during the final battle scenes (make sure you watch it on IMAX 3D).
Overall, I enjoy the film very much and think it's one of the best in the series. However, not having read the book, I have many questions after seeing the film, and that may also signify the problem with the screenplay. Those who have read the novel might understand what is going, but those who haven't might be scratching their heads about the perceived plot holes. There are obvious flaws, and the lack of emotional punch at the end is a letdown.
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes
Director: David Yates
Writer: Michael Goldenberg (based on JK Rowling's novel)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.4 out of 10