*Disclaimer: Review Contains Spoilers
Release date: July 11th, 2007
Written by: Michael Goldenberg
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, and David Thewlis.
In year five, Voldemort’s return has shaken the wizarding world to it’s very cre. However, the Ministry of Magic does not want to believe he has returned. As a result, they’ve begun slandering anyone who claims Voldemort is back via their newspaper, The Daily Prophet. Meanwhile, Voldemort is recruiting new forces, while those who fight him, The Order of the Phoenix, are doing so as well. Back at Hogwarts, the Ministry has assigned Dolores Umbridge to provide a “safe and secure” learning environment. This includes not teaching the students how to properly defend themselves. Harry decides to take things into his own hands by training the students himself.
Once again we see a new director take the helm, this time David Yates. Since this film, Yates has gone on to direct the rest of the series. What’s interesting to note is the author of the novels, J.K. Rowling, wanted Yates as director since the first film. Yates brings a dark visual style to the table and in that regard is a worthy successor to Alfonso Cuarón. He also seems to have a fine handle on action and suspense, as well as just getting good performances from his actors. But the movie does have severe pacing issues, which I’ll get to in a minute.
A rather surprising change comes in replacing writer Steve Kloves. Kloves had written all the previous films had a good handle on the series. But for whatever reason, did not write this film. His replacement being Michael Goldenberg. Goldenberg did a good job for the most part. He managed t capture all the characters as well as mimic the way Kloves wrote these films. It wasn’t completely obvious that Kloves had not written it, and I honestly didn’t realize it was a different writer until the end credits. But once again, I must mention the movie’s pacing issues.
I know I’m notorious for complaining about the run time of these films, and I once again take issue with it here. Only this time, it’s the opposite problem. While I felt the Columbus films were too long, this one feels too short. “The Order of the Phoenx” is the longest novel, yet is also the shortest film at two hours and ten minutes. I know it seems weird that I was once complaining that these films were too long, and now I have the opposite problem. But look at The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire. They were long films, but I had no complaints about the run time because they were engaging and had enough substance to justify two and a half hours. As the series would progress and gradually become more complex, they needed longer run times to tell their stories. But in this, it feels like the movie is trying so hard to get all the story in that it never stops to just enjoy itself. We as a audience don’t have time to enjoy a moment because the film is constantly shoving another plot point down our throats. It just feels like there is a lot of great stuff here that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The reason I mentioned this in both director and writer paragraphs is because I’m not really sure who’s fault this is. Director David Yates trying to trim the story down. Writer Goldenberg only breaking the novel down to it’s bare essentials. Or maybe the studio wanted a shorter film. I’m not quite sure, it may be a combination of all three. Regardless, it severely hurts the film.
Our three leads are great as always, with Radcliffe really shining. For the first time in the series, we see Harry on edge. He’s gone through a lot and finds himself feeling alone, confused, and angry. It’s really interesting, and somewhat refreshing, to see the darker side to hm. You really get the sense that he’s not taking anyone’s s*** anymore. This angle gets even better when Harry realizes there is a mental connection between him and Voldemort, and starts to fear he’s becoming like Voldemort. I love watching this, and the moments where Voldemort slips through Harry are great. This whole element is probably the highlight of The Order of the Phoenix.
All the usual players in the supporting cast return, but there are only three I want to talk about. The first is Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom. I haven’t mentioned Neville in this review series, but he’s been in the films since the beginning, usually serving as background comedic relief. As the series goes, subtle hints are dropped about his past. For instance, we knew early on in the films that he lives with his Grandma and not his parents. In the fourth film, we learn his parents were tortured and killed by Death Eaters. But in this film, for the first time, we see Neville openly talk about them. I like it because I like seeing Neville rise from just being comedic relief. We actually start to see a more interesting side to his character.
The next is Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. I’ve already talked about how much I love this character in my Prisoner of Azkaban review, and all that holds up here. He’s interesting, charismatic, and played brilliantly by Gary Oldman. During the climax of The Order of the Phoenix, Sirius is killed by Bellatrix Lestrange. As a Sirius fan, I feel cheated by this. I love the character, but I never got to spend nearly as much time with him as I wanted. I got little bits here and there, but not enough to be truly satisfied.It’s worse when he’s killed because I realize I will never get to spend that time with him. You may think I’m complaining, but I’m not. I actually think this works well in the movie’s favor. We feel like we didn’t get enough time with Sirius because that’s how Harry feels. The movie does a great job of making us feel the grief Harry feels. Though once again, the short run time hurts this because we don’t see Harry grieving. Sirius dies, Harry screams and seeks revenge, and then the movie just sort of continues. I don’t remember the novel too well, but I do seem to remember spending more time with a grieving Harry. I’d have loved to see this on film, and it’s a pity we didn’t really get that.
Finally, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. I’ve always loved this character and watching him in the films has always been a highlight. In this film, he begins to train Harry to prevent Voldemort from entering his mind. These scenes are brutal and watching Snape push Harry like this is pretty engaging. But thing change when Harry grows tired of Snape entering his mind. Harry uses the very same spell on Snape and sees inside his head. We see images of a young Snape at Hogwarts. He isn’t a mean or cruel person, just a misunderstood kid being picked on by other students. Other students including Harry’s father. After this scene, your entire view of Snape is changed. From those brief images, it becomes clear why Snape is such a cold person, and why he always had a particular hate for Harry. Before, you either hated Snape, or you enjoyed watching him be such a strict and at times mean teacher. But now, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. I’m pretty sure that in the book there was more time spent watching Snape be bullied, but the brief bits we see of it in the film are more than enough. My only problem is that after the scene is done, it’s never explored in the film. I know it will be later on, but to introduce such a massive, game changing element and then do nothing with it really frustrates me.
The cast also sees some new additions. Helena Bonham Carter plays the death eater Bellatrix Lestrange. She’s a pretty fun villain, and she’s good at being crazy.It’s not a remarkable performance, but it’s a fun character and a memorable villain. Evanna Lynch makes her first appearance in the series as Luna Lovegood. Lovegood is a student Harry’s age and she’s one of the most memorable students at Hogwarts. She’s such a fun and amusing person that she becomes a joy to watch. Lynch really does a great job in the role. Watching her, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching her play a character, which could have easily happened given what an offbeat character Luna is. But Lynch really sinks into the character.
The real standout though is Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge is the controlling and manipulative professor sent by the Ministry to make learning safer, but is actually hindering the students learning. Staunton does a great job with Umbridge and really makes you hate this woman. You hate her more than you hate Lord Voldemort. She’s just such an annoying b****. I also like how Umbridge has a facade of being all sweet and innocent, but is actually really malicious and cruel. It’s nice twist, and makes you hate Umbridge even more. All this makes it incredibly satisfying when the students get their revenge.
Despite the pacing problems, the story is still solid. I’ve already mentioned how much I love watching Harry struggle with his inner darkness, but there are other elements of the story I appreciate too. The idea of the Ministry of Magic trying to silence the return of Lord Voldemort is a good idea and made for an interesting obstacle for Harry. It’s also interesting watching people turn against him. Another thing I love is watching Harry form Dumbledore’s Army. It’s a lot of fun watching Harry train other witches and wizards to fight and it’s cool to see him take a stand against both Voldemort and the Ministry.The are some story elements I could have done without though. For example, it feels like Grawp and the Centaurs story were only thrown in as a way to get rid of Umbridge at the end. I also don’t like how at the beginning of the film, we see meet new characters, but we don’t really get to know any of them. They just sort of show up.
If there’s one thing Yates nailed in this entry it was tone. No matter how dark the other films got, they all had a sense of fun. But not this time. The film is dark and intense. That’s not to say there isn’t lighter moments, there is, but they aren’t nearly as prominent as they use to be. The dark visuals, and watching Harry assemble Dumbledore’s Army really lends to the feeling of impending doom. The whole film just has a general aura of being unpleasant, and it couldn’t feel more appropriate.
One of the most memorable scenes of the film is the climax. Watching Harry and Sirius fight side by side is really satisfying, even if it only lasts a moment. Followed by the death of Sirius, we see Voldemort trying to tempt Harry on a darker path. Harry eventually breaks free from Voldemort, but only after Voldemort and Dumbeldore have an epic wizarding duel. This scene is the action highlight of the series so far, and I have no idea how Harry and Voldemort’s duel in The Deathly Hallows Part Two will top this one.
The last thing I wanna talk about is the wussification of Malfoy. It’s not nearly as bad in this film, but it’s still there.There’s some pointless Malfoy humiliation during Fred and George’s final attack to Umbrigde, and making Malfoy part Umbirdge’s little goon squad pissed me off. It isn’t a major part of this film, and had these events occured in another film, I wouldn’t even mention it. But Malfoy is gonna play a major role in the next film, and unfortunately the films are continuing to make him a joke.
I must confess, I was really curious about revising this film. A friend of mine is uber obsessed with Harry Potter, and she’s adamant that this film is one of the worst (she feels this way about the next one too). Personally, I must respectively disagree. There’s a lot of wasted potential here no question, but there is also a lot of good ideas, great action, and a very well rounded cast. At the point of it’s release, I would also say this was Daniel Radcliffe’s best performance as Harry. It’s flawed, a step down from the last two films, and I see where my friend is coming from, but the film has a lot going in it’s favor, and I still prefer it to the Columbus films.