What’s this? Two Harry Potter movie reviews in one day? Have I gone mad? Can I ask four questions in a row? The answer to all those questions is “yes”. Even the first one. See I had time to kill and I figured if I can review another Potter film today I’ll be able to get a day off from the series on Wednesday. I can’t pass that up. So here we are at The Ord4er Of The Phoenix. It’s time for battle lines to be drawn, for truths to be uncovered, and most importantly, for Luna Lovegood to finally show up.
After being pleased the Goblet Of Fire broke the formulaic opening that the first three films started with it was quite a disappointment to find this film starting at the Dursleys house again. As you’d expect before too long Harry has traveled via magical means to London. This time though it is because he is facing expulsion from Hogwarts for using the Petronus spell to save his cousin from Dementors. The grave treatment of his use of a spell amongst Muggles contrasts with the lack of punishment he received in Prisoner Of Azkaban. It’s not without reason though. The Ministry of Magic is in complete denial of the return of Voldemort to the extent that they believe Harry has made the story up and even allude to him being the one that killed Cedric in the last film. This sets the scene for the tone of the film. One of Potter and his pals preparing for a battle that the people in power believe to be a lie. A lie they will go to any extent to ignore or cover up. Truth will out as muggles will say.. apparently.
Before getting to the Ministry of Magic Harry is introduced to The Order Of The Phoenix, a secret team of characters who weren’t in all the previous films but were also not evil. So basically an excuse for Moody, Lupin ad Sirius to come back. Also Rons parents which is a bit odd. Always figured they were just a regular family and yet here they are knee deep in the anti Voldemort war. The conflict in this film comes from the appointment of a representative of the Ministry of Magic in the form of Professor Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). He goal is to resort decorum and strict rules to the school. After taking control she starts implementing a seemingly never ending list of rules ranging from no practicing spells to the boys being required to stay at least 8 inches away from the girls. Oh she’s also psychotic having no troubles inflicting physical pain on students with various curses to get her point across. Basically she stops Hogwarts being Hogwarts and makes it impossible for the students to actually learn magic. because of this Harry forms a team he calls Dumbledores Army.
Harry uses this secret class to teach the students how to defend against the dark arts, something Umbridge (the DADA teacher) is unwilling to do. She teaches theories because that’s all the students will need to pass their exams and that’s what school is about. I like that JK Rowling actually worked a little backhand at the state of the UK educational system in there. Daring thing to do in a book that will be distributed primarily to kids. Well supposedly kids. Really they all go to adults who have never read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Why I don’t own a Harry potter book the is a baffling mystery based on that logic. I’m suggesting adult fans of Harry Potter books have never read a real book you see.
It is quite interesting to see Harry take up the role of teacher. It is the logical place you’d imagine him going to if ever he vanquishes Voldemort. It’s also clear that a lot of this film is about his growth as a character. He’s been haunted by visions from Voldemort from the beginning and finally he’s learning that just because he has a link to the Dark Lord via his conversation piece of a scar it doesn’t mean he’ll go evil. This is something he’s gone over a few time in the previous films and it’s at the front of his inner conflict for Order Of The Phoenix. This is actually a pretty strong character story this time around. That’s not to say the action slacks off but it’s certainly not to the standard of Newell’s Goblet Of Fire. The finale manages to surpass any of the set pieces in the previous films though. We finally get to see a proper balls our wizardry duel and a large scale. It’s quite reassuring for the future films that this sequence doesn’t fall flat because a bunch of dudes in cosplay flicking sticks and balls of light at each other could have really looked silly. The duels at the end are pretty explosive and full of crap getting thrown about all over the shop. We even get to see Dumbledore go all magical Rambo on Voldemort.
Now to Luna Lovegood. Easily the most unique and interesting character in the series. She’s 100% bonkers but she is able to cut through to the point of matters in a way no other characters manage. She has a link with Harry too as she saw her mother die in an accident when she was nine and that shaped her outlook on life. She comes across as a wise hippy, but not the annoying smelly kind. She wears earrings with Radishes on them, walks around barefoot because someone took her shoes (Probably Nargles), she reads books upside-down and she can’t go a full sentence without either offering a piece of beautiful truth of pure madness. She’s always the girl that everyone avoids because of how odd she is and as Harry builds together his team of ragtag outsiders for his army she becomes the perfect fit. She is like the antithesis of Hermione’s logical, book-smart approach to the world. She finally brings a dimension to the female characters that’s been missing from the series.
Oddly the special effects in this entry seem to have taken a step backwards. There’s a particularly embarrassing looking CGI giant that’s randomly introduced as Hagrids secret brother. One he keeps tied to a tree in the woods. Disturbing. It seems the majority of the effects budget went on the finale battle at the Ministry of Magic because you certainly can’t fault them there. It’s just all the incidentals like the Hogwarts fly-overs and any digitally created characters that look so out of date. Some effects from previous films are presented differently in this one too. Sirius talking to Harry through the fireplace is presented as his face floating in the flames which isn’t at all creative when compared to the burning embers animated to life in Goblet Of Fire. The Petronus spell is also shown differenly. It was depicted in Prisoner of Azkaban as a light shield of sorts, and it is at the start of this film. But when Harry teaches it to his secret class the Petronus manifests as whatever the student is focusing on, a bunny rabbit in Lunas case. She likes bunnies see.
David Yates, the director for the remaining films in the series, manages to pull a more convincing performance from the majority of the cast. At time Daniel Radcliffe almost comes across as naturalistic which is the complete polar opposite of the early films. Yates also seems to be keen on handheld camera which has it’s place during battles but, in my opinion, always seems like a cheap method of making a conversational scene seem more intense. It’s used sparingly though and only really feels like a distraction in one scene. He employes a more varied colour pallet than either Cuaron or Newell which is a nice relief because the Gothic gray and blue look was getting old.
Overall the film is fairly strong thanks to its focus on character conflict and making believable people out of the students. It lacks maybe the energy of the action scenes in the previous films and it’s still trying to make us care about Cedric, that will never happen. I would have just washed over his death as far as how it effects the characters because it didn’t work in the last film and as such it won’t work here. There’s a good balance going on in Order of the Phoenix in terms of stroytelling, character and action though and the producers decision to get one director to see out the final stages of the series is a smart one. It should pay off by the end of Deathly Hallows Part 2 I’d imagine because a unified look and direction style will help keep the audience invested characters and events which will be key for the series finale. Only two more films to go before I review Deathly Hallows Part 2 on Friday and so far I’d say I’ve warmed up a little to the series. I’d say it’s likely because of the stronger all round quality of the performances and the character arcs. I would like less of the contrivances and novel based story telling techniques but that’s not been too damaging in the last few films. Half-Blood Prince tomorrow then. Yay!