Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Reviews
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the beginning of what could be called the long, slow consolidation of the franchise. The first of ultimately four efforts to be helmed by David Yates, it approaches the material with neither the need nor the willingness to prove itself, seemingly confident that fans will know enough about the basics at this point that more new stuff can be crammed in. But while the film has a lot of promising or interesting aspects, it is in the final analysis more episodic and less satisfying than its two predecessors, and may be the weakest film in the series since Chamber of Secrets.
It's very easy to lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the director. Yates was and is primarily a TV director, having made his name on acclaimed series like State of Play and TV films like The Girl in the Cafe. His only previous theatrical offering, The Tichborne Claimant, was notable for its cast but not for its plot or execution. It would be very simple to assume that Yates simply has an episodic mindset, and is, through his training and sensibility, less capable of long-form, cinematic storytelling than Mike Newell or Alfonso Cuarón.
Whatever truth may be in these statements, however, they are not by any means the whole truth. An equally bigger problem lies in the fact that the series doesn't feel the need to justify each instalment on its own terms anymore. Up until Goblet of Fire, the future of the series felt up in the air just enough to keep everyone on their toes: Newell's film and Prisoner of Azkaban went the extra mile to prove that they were necessary additions to the canos. By the time Order of the Phoenix came to be made, the Harry Potter fandom had developed to such an extent that there was no longer any need for such healthy self-doubt. While the films don't treat the viewers' intelligence with outright contempt, there is still an underlying unwillingness to bring new people on board, even at such a late stage.
There are a lot of things about Order of the Phoenix which are appealing, and any one of them could have the capstone for a film in its own right. There is the tyrannical rule of Delores Umbridge, who descends onto Hogwarts like a terrifying cross between Margaret Thatcher, Mary Whitehouse and Michael Gove. There is the Order of the title, with more details coming forward about Sirius Black and the Malfoys. And there is the overriding conspiracy of denial surrounding Voldemort's return, following the events of the last film.
Order of the Phoenix is significant within the series for being the only film not to be scripted by Steve Kloves. Michael Goldenberg, who wrote Contact and the live-action version of Peter Pan, was brought in to replace Kloves after the latter claimed to be physically and mentally exhausted. Kloves' scripts may never have been perfect, falling into several predictable rhythms, but it's probable that he could have marshalled these different and divergent threads into something more coherently satisfying.
For most of its running time, Order of the Phoenix concerns itself with the first plotline, focussing on Umbridge taking over Hogwarts and inflicting her pink plague upon the students. Imelda Staunton does a really great job getting across all Umbridge's quirks, showing all that latent rage and frustration burning away under the forced smile of quiet, English passive aggression. Her characterisation of Umbridge as a spineless, narrow-minded, pencil-pushing moral crusader is a breath of fresh air compared to the other teachers of Defence Against the Dark Arts, who have by and large been pale, skulking and slippery types, whose physicalisation so often shows their hand too early.
Just as Goblet of Fire did a good job of creating tension through infighting between Harry and his friends, so this film manages to unsettle our feelings of safety by removing all aspects of Hogwarts we have learnt to take for granted. In the previous films, there was always a sense that no matter how bad things got, two things were certain: Dumbledore would be around to help, and Harry wouldsave the day. In Order of the Phoenix both are called into question early on, leaving us uncertain and ever mindful of the gathering evil of Voldemort.
By referring back to the denial of Voldemort by those in authority, Yates introduces a theme of the corruption of the wizarding authority, upon which he expands in the later films. Much like the Time Lords in classic Doctor Who, the Ministry of Magic started out as a seemingly benign and benevolent organisation, but is increasingly portrayed as hubristic, all-controlling and, in the Ministry's case, driven as much by fear as Voldemort ultimately is. Umbridge's reign is the first hint we get of the Nineteen Eighty-Four-inflected view of the wizarding world, removing another crumb of comfort from the audience for our own good.
Further effort is also made to weaken Harry as a reliable protagonist, in this case by his battles with Snape as the latter tries to train his mind against the Dark Lord's influence. Daniel Radcliffe's performance in these scenes demonstrates how far he has matured over the course of the series: he may be playing an easily-angered adolescent, but it's a controlled performance and he responds to Alan Rickman quite superbly. Rickman, naturally, gives as good as he gets, but his best is reserved for his brief, taciturn exchanges with Umbridge.
All of this sounds promising - but there's a problem. Because the book is so big, Yates is never able to develop any of these strands to an entirely satisfying degree, and as a result the whole thing begins to feel inconsequential. Even with all the cuts that he and Goldenberg made before filming had even started, the film still feels like a half-told collection of bits which can't entirely stand on their own. Supporting characters feel increasingly like stations we pass through on a long train journey, and by this point the feeling is not one of intrigue at where we are, but growing frustration at how long it is taking us to get us to our destination.
It may seem churlish to keep comparing Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings, but here as elsewhere it is a meaningful comparison. Much of the (unwarranted) criticism of The Two Towers focussed on the idea that the film couldn't be taken on its own, with critics (wrongly) claiming that it didn't have a meaningful beginning and end. Order of the Phoenix suffers from the same problem; if you had never seen the first four films, too little of it would make sense for you to enjoy it as a stand-alone. And because so little effort is made to let the casual viewer in, the majority of what happens just washes over you in an unmemorable way.
There are other big problems with Order of the Phoenix outside of its structural integrity. There are internal issues too, relating to the storytelling, the pacing and the integration of the action. Despite being the shortest film in the series, at 138 minutes, the film still feels drawn out in places, with Yates taking a long time to cover aspects which could just as adequately be explained in half the time. The Order itself feels underdeveloped as a concept, with Yates giving more time to more visually memorable but relatively frivolous concepts, such as the Room of Requirement - which is, for the record, both unoriginal (the TARDIS) and lazy to the point of utter desperation.
The big issue with both the drama and the set-pieces is one of emphasis. While he has some credentials in drama, Yates does not do set-pieces very well, the result being that all the fights which should feel weighty instead feel distracted and unfocussed. The final battle between the Order and the Death-Eaters feels empty and perfunctory, with Yates' camera chasing after the action rather than shaping it. The result is that Sirius Black's death carries no meaning at all, which is a huge shame given Gary Oldman's hard work to make him compelling in Prisoner of Azkaban. The same goes for Voldemort's duel with Dumbledore in the Ministry of Magic: we get a three-minute parade of unremarkable special effects, and then it's back to normal as if nothing ever happened.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a middling instalment in the franchise which contains potential but lacks focus in its execution. Its interesting ideas and the moments in which it does come together ultimately redeem it, as least as a passing diversion, but it is the least essential Harry Potter film since Chamber of Secrets. In the end, it's a mild disappointment, being not being bad enough to put you off, but leaving you with some serious concerns going forward.
Things are starting to get real, and really series for Harry following the events of the previous outing. The wizarding world is in a curious state about the return of Voldemort, with a lot of people torn about whether it's really going on or not.
As a result, Harry finds himself in a difficult spot as he struggles to deal with these problems, as well as the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. As the bureaucratic powers that be begin to crackdown on growing suspicions about the return of Voldemort, Harry and his loyal friends start taking matters into their own hands, knowing that it's pretty much the only way to get anything accomplished, despite all the risks involved.
This is a bit of a tough one for the series. As I said, this film is the second shortest, and it's based on the longest book. Unfortunately that means that the film is an extremely streamlined adaptation, with few of the subplots, and a fair amount of condensing of the main story. It also continues the tradition of having a darker tone, though there are still some lighter moments and fun things, though not a nice blend of menace and whimsy like previous entries accomplished.
The core cast return and continue to get better and better. New additions like Helena Bonham Carter and Imelda Staunton are fantastic additions, and make for some gloriously scene stealing villains that are an absolute joy to watch. The music, though not done by Williams, is decent, though I wish they could have stuck more with the type of scores from other films.
The cinematography however, is something I really don't have any complaints with. It's moody, atmospheric, and gets the job done nicely. I think that Yates is a bit wobbly here at times, but can't get too mad as this was his first crack at the series.
All in all, this is a decent movie, but it could and should have been far better. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the book, I'm not sue it needed to be as long as it was. That being said though, I can understand why this film had to get some things, though I wished they could have done a better job at selecting what to keep and what to toss.
I should probably hate on this film a little more, but I find that a little hard to do. I mean yeah, it's flawed, but it's also part of an already ambitious series, and it does get a fair amount of stuff right, so I'll let it slide with the slightest possible 3.5/5 possible.
"Evil Must Be Confronted"
Order of the Phoenix is my least liked Harry Potter movie. With that said, I still really like it. We see the addition of Bellatix Lestrange who is played really well throughout the rest of the films by Helena Bonham Carter. She is an evil follower of Voldermort and doesn't waste much time before she kills.
Another new face in this one is Umbridge. Easily the easiest person for me to hate in the series. Umbridge is what we in the muggle world call a bitch(Well, I guess Mrs. Weasley will say it too). Umbrich is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and she is doing the ministries business. She lays down a bunch of ridiculous rules and takes magic completely out of the classroom. Her and Fudge refuse to admit that the Dark Lord is back and instead blame everything that is happening on Sirius Black.
The cool thing about the book and movie is that Harry has to take command and start training students to defend themselves, since Umbridge isn't. They call themselves Dumbledore's Army and practice as much as is possible under heavy watch and scrutiny from Umbridge.
This is the first attempt by David Yates who would go onto helm the rest of the movies. Although this movie isn't as good as it should be, Yates only improves from here on out. I like that one director made the last four movies. It gives some stability to the movies and their tones.
Things are worse than ever at Hogwarts. A new teacher, sent from the Ministry of Magic, has turned the school into a dictatorship. This teacher, Mrs. Umbridge, played with a cruel yet accurate honesty by Imelda Staunton, seems to be trying to control the children, taking away their ability to practice real magic, probably so that Voldemort can turn them into his slaves much easier. This influences Harry, Hermione, and Ron to create Dumbledore's Army, a rebellion of Hogwart's finest students.
Much of the film's attention is aimed at the Ministry of Magic who, like any government, is filled with corruption. The minister is filled with fear, and many of its greatest supporters are soon revealed to be Death Eaters - those loyal to Voldemort and his return to power. There seems to be a hint of satire here, as the film takes many humorous jabs at this governing body, from the nonsensical court system to the wall filled with new decrees as to how order is maintained at Hogwarts. It's as if this government doesn't know its head from its ass, even in the face of obvious reason.
Meanwhile, Harry is becoming more of a teenager. He's angry, feels completely alone, and hates how no one thinks he is capable to stand on his own. Sounds like me when I was a teenager. I think if I were to study this film as a metaphor, I would say this installment is most reflective of teenage angst. Although Harry has good reason.
Complete with an all star cast that now introduces Helena Bonham Carter as the delightfully evil Bellatrix Lestrange, the fifth film in the series is a solid effort that manages to bridge the gap between the fourth and sixth films. Things are beginning to unravel at an alarming rate, and a war seems imminent. Hold on tight as this tale is about to take some great twists.
But hey, it's a fairly tolerable first act and the emotions/relationships are handled much better than GoF. I do think the whole political and propaganda angle surrounding Voldemort's return could have fleshed out more, or at least had more serious effects than the perky conservative antics of the "new" head mistress.