Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment in the franchise, begins with an attack on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) in the muggle world.
Harry defends himself well, but the Ministry of Magic learns of the incident and quickly moves to expel the young wizard from Hogwarts for illegal use of magic. Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) persuades the Ministry to drop the charges, but the sting of the incident lingers, and as Harry arrives at Hogwarts to begin his fifth year, things get worse.
It seems no one, least of all the Ministry, wants to believe that the evil lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. Newspapers, professors and peers all suggest that Harry is lying in order to rally dissidents against the Ministry.
Bothered by nightmares that have a nasty habit of coming true, Harry begins to feel increasingly angry, isolated and alone. And when the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), puts Hogwarts under the Ministrys thumb, Harry is forced to take matters into his own hands.
He, along with Weasley (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), and the mysterious Order of the Phoenix must sow the seeds of rebellion to defend against Voldemort and his growing army of Death Eaters.
Director David Yates, a newcomer to the franchise, does a great job of making the characters engaging. He frequently frames Radcliffe in a way that is representative of Harrys isolation, and really prods Radcliffe to dig deep for many of the films darker moments.
Just as Harry is coming of age so, too, is Radcliffe, who proves himself here as an actor; as do Watson and Grint, albeit through sporadic scenes. Staunton is also spot on (think an evil Mrs. Garrett, in pink) as is the usual supporting cast: Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman and newbie Helena Bonahm Carter.
Oddly, Phoenix is derived from one of the longest Potter books, but has the shortest running time of any of the films.
Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg took on the daunting task of turning the lengthy book into a film, giving the franchises usual screenwriter Steven Kloves a break before tackling the next two films. And while this change allows for many beautifully crafted scenes, Kloves ability to blend and present multiple plot points and characters is missed.
In any heros journey the catalysts, or trials a hero must overcome, are integral aspects that must be carefully constructed. Phoenix succeeds in setting up these trials but often gets lost within them.
The sub-plot concerning Dolores Umbridge is a darkly enjoyable segue to the greater sub-plot of fear and politics. But instead of being catalysts to Harrys coming of age, these sub-plots tend to dominate, forcing Harrys isolation and anger to be stretched out over the course of the film in awkward, over-written adolescent spurts.
So, as enjoyable, interesting and even integral, as many of the films scenes are (such as the forming of a rebellion and Harrys first kiss, both of which are done rather well), Phoenix as a whole ends up spending too much time telling. Harrys growth is relegated to bumpy info dumps, the overly expository opposite to Anakin Skywalkers overly epic, operatic fall in Revenge of the Sith.
One thing is for sure, though, given Yates great directing: the sixth film should be fantastic because as much as those around Harry refuse to believe it, Voldemort is back and next time around the spells are really going to fly.
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