Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The rebellion against the fans begins
The rebellion against the fans begins
Franchises can be some of the most unpredictable movies out there, whether a new entry is being released or you go back to watch one from the past again. Sometimes, franchises can show promising beginnings and end up reaching lukewarm endings (The Matrix), or they can disappoint us on arrival only to redeem themselves in the end (the Star Wars prequels). Occasionally we find that movies we once held in high regard are now not as fantastic as they once were, especially when held up against their follow-ups. Then there are movies that we either didn’t think much of at first or thought they were merely satisfying, only to see them creep up on us in the future and so that we can appreciate them more because of aspects that were not in our view before. While Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets have been hampered slightly by their age, Order of the Phoenix manages to impress me even more on each subsequent viewing.
Plot Synopsis: After an attack on Harry Potter and his cousin Dudley courtesy of the dementors, Harry leaves his home for the Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards that includes the Weasleys and Harry’s godfather Sirius Black, who were created by Professor Dumbledore to fight against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Despite Harry Potter and Dumbledore’s best efforts to convince the Ministry of Magic otherwise though, they refuse to believe the fact that Voldemort has indeed returned, simply out of fear and the need to keep the peace. They have gone so far as to appoint one of their own employees, Dolores Umbridge, to Hogwarts as the new Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts teacher. As Umbridge begins to slowly take over the school with her various restrictions, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione begin to gather up some students who are willing to learn the magic that they should be learning in class on their own time, with Harry as their teacher. But Umbridge is the least of their problems, as Harry is haunted by nightmares seen through Voldemort’s point of view where the Dark Lord appears to be looking for something that may explain the connection between them both.
Every one of the young actors puts in their best performances (at that point in the series), with the adults doing expectedly excellent too. Daniel Radcliffe has the toughest role to pull off because Harry is much more emotionally frustrated this time around, and therefore could come off as annoying if he is mishandled. Thankfully, aside from one instance between him and Ron in the Gryffindor common room that really frustrated me, Radcliffe shows Harry’s frustration while still being likable. Gary Oldman finally gets some substantial screen time as Sirius, not only because of his tender performance, but also because his relationship with Harry is more defined and built-up in time for the climax. Imelda Staunton also makes quite an impression as the deceptively cheerful Umbridge, but underneath her gaudy exterior is a venomous snake ready to strike at the first sight of rebellion.
Warner Bros. took a real gamble when they hired David Yates (whose only previous experience was in TV) to take over the reins for the series, but the risk paid off in spades. Yates was brought mostly because of his skill with actors, and this is readily apparent onscreen. But don’t let that fool you, because he handles the action and special effects elements with equal skill. This is the first time that we get to see how a true wizard battle would play out, and the end result doesn’t disappoint. Spells shoot back and forth with almost delicate swiftness, and each flick of the wand is gracefully intense. But that is not all, as we also get treated to a battle between Voldemort and Dumbledore himself. It is very apparent that these two titans are much more powerful than your average wizard, as their spells have much more weight, power, and intensity. But even when Yates gets the chance to show off his fancy skills with the camera, he doesn’t neglect the human element. Harry’s breakdown during the fight is astoundingly gripping and is one of my favorite moments in the series. And rather than end the climax with a fancy effect, it’s a much more emotional outcome that resonates more than any explosion could have.
Something that I didn’t expect to see in a Harry Potter was political commentary, but it’s here, and the movie is all the better for it. There is some pretty powerful imagery on display here. Some examples include a huge poster of Minister Fudge hanging in the Ministry hall similar to USSR posters of Stalin, the insertion of Umbridge into Hogwarts to “clean things up” is similar to the Nazis teaching the German children their “ways” or the US Senate during the 1950s getting rid of supposed "communists" in society, and the whole story in general is an example of how propaganda is used to influence the public view (Yates emphasizes this by using the Daily Prophet as a scene transition tool). The political undertones are unexpectedly creepy and disturbing, and they really give the audience something to ponder about afterwards.
It’s very surprising to me that I ended up liking Order of the Phoenix so much, given how the book is one of my least favorite in the series. The problem with the book was that it had great ideas and potential that was reduced by its bloated and repetitive length. Harry was almost unlikable in the book because of his constant whining, and things were just dragged out with meandering subplots. The movie adaptation fixes those problems by trimming away most of the fat and focusing on the core story elements, creating an effortlessly breezy pace that goes by in no time. It may be the shortest movie in the series, but it is the one that I will most likely remember for the longest time.