Movie Review: More magic in ‘Order of the Phoenix’

By Matt Collette

Harry Potter has grown up. After witnessing the death of a fellow student and the return of the nefarious Lord Voldemort in the conclusion of the fourth installment, “The Goblet of Fire,” Harry realizes that his world has become more dangerous.

He spends his summer at home with the Dursleys, where he has heard nothing from friends Ron and Hermione, his godfather Sirius Black nor Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In the meantime, the Daily Prophet, the newspaper of the wizarding world, whose penchant for puns and blatant editorializing rivals the Boston Herald, has made him a regular on their front page.

No longer is Harry Potter “The Boy Who Lived;” he is “The Boy Who Lies,” as one headline reads.

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” quickly takes audiences from Harry’s home at Privet Drive to the Ministry of Magic, where the young wizard stands trial and faces expulsion from Hogwarts for illegally casting a spell. The Ministry is a new location for the series, and Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge appears on a Stalin-esque banner hanging in the Ministry’s atrium.

Dumbledore comes to Harry’s defense and soon enough Harry, Ron and Hermione, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson respectively, begin their fifth year at Hogwarts.

The three main actors are quickly maturing into talented young thespians. The audience can feel their chemistry and tell they have become good friends during the series’ production.

Radcliffe and Watson stand out especially, but Grint sometimes fades to the background as Ron’s own stories (joining the Gryffindor Quidditch team as keeper, for example) disappear and he is stuck playing second fiddle to Harry.

Watson benefits from her character’s own personal growth as Hermione becomes more confident and, of the three, she shows the most promise in terms of a future movie career.

Radcliffe plays the title character exceptionally well, yet some of his lines feel much more like narration than something Harry would actually say, especially in his final confrontation with Voldemort.

Luna Lovegood is a quirky new classmate played to perfection by newcomer Evanna Lynch. Luna too has had a difficult past and quickly bonds with Harry – they are both outcasts who have witnessed death. Without question, Luna is the best adapted of any of Rowling’s characters.

The adult actors give exceptional performances, capitalizing on the few minutes they have in the film. Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman, as usual, shine as professors Minerva McGonagall and Severus Snape. Emma Thompson plays Professor Sybill Trelawney with heartbreaking excellence when she is nearly forced from Hogwarts.

The other major additions to the cast are Imelda Staunton as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge and Helena Boneham Carter as the maniacal Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange. Umbridge’s tyrannous rule leads Hermione and Ron to convince Harry to start Dumbledore’s Army and teach fellow students how to defend themselves against the dark arts.

Umbridge is an interesting villain because she can tell the difference between right and wrong, but forces herself to ignore what is right. With educational decree after decree, she takes more and more control of Hogwarts, where paranoid students begin to turn against one another.

Carter’s Lestrange is equally entertaining, though she really only gets screen time in the film’s final battle between Voldemort’s Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix, a group started by Dumbledore that fights Voldemort. Director David Yates and his special effects team shot the fight scene in the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Mysteries, which is visually stunning and emotionally gripping.

To the dismay of some fans, the film’s Department of Mysteries is much less mysterious than Rowling’s – we only see a few rooms of the Ministry of Magic’s winding department and Harry and his friends have little trouble navigating it.

While the film manages to cover the main plot elements of Rowling’s book, it ignores several others, including Hermione’s efforts to redeem Harry’s name in the Daily Prophet. It also overlooks much of the internal turmoil in the magical world, especially in relation to so-called half-breeds.

Quidditch, the wizarding world’s most popular sport, is also absent. Another interesting plot alteration concerns Harry’s prophecy at the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Mysteries. Unlike in the book, the other students are able to hear the meaningful prophecy.

While previous films would have alluded to the plots in short scenes that often felt superfluous, this edition makes a clean cut, telling the primary story much more effectively. The screenplay, written by series newcomer Stephen Walsh, just feels right and, combined with the excellent acting by the cast and the visually-stunning look of the film, transports audiences to Hogwarts and beyond in a way that didn’t feel possible in previous films.

It is a shame that Steve Kloves, who wrote the previous four screenplays, is returning to that post, as Walsh used more direct dialogue from Rowling’s novels to tell the story in a way Kloves never did.

“The Order of the Phoenix” is a fun and satisfying supplement to the books that manages to bring the Wizarding World to life more than any previous incarnation. But if you don’t already know that the story doesn’t have a happy ending, the film may move through the plot too quickly.

Fans will be happy to see the incredibly detailed world the filmmakers created, from the pages of the Daily Prophet to the Black family tree shown on the wallpaper of Grimmauld Place, but anyone expecting to substitute watching the movie for reading the book is simply missing the point.

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