Directed by: David Yates
Premise: The fifth film in the Harry Potter series. The Ministry of Magic denies the return of Voldemort and appoints a bureaucrat (Imelda Staunton) to the Hogwarts staff, who takes dictatorial control over the school and the students. In response, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) rallies his fellow students to defy the new administration and face the forces of darkness on their own.
What Works: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix builds upon the climax of The Goblet of Fire, taking the series to darker and more mature places. This chapter of the Harry Potter series is more about character development than action, and gone are a lot of the familiar sequences from earlier installments such as the Quidditch match or the classroom scenes. Instead, this film spends a lot of time crafting the conflict between Harry and Dolores Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton. The Order of the Phoenix benefits immensely from Staunton’s performance; she is an infuriating antagonist whose fascistic and sadomasochistic qualities are hidden beneath a veneer of motherly charm. Her conflict with Harry and his friends pushes the development of the characters further along than any other film in the series. This is a welcome addition and it gives The Order of the Phoenix a more immediate dramatic conflict than any other film in the series. As Harry is forced to step out of line with school authorities he must contend with the adult world and adult responsibilities. Corruption, the use and abuse of power, relationships between leaders and subordinates, and the choice between good and evil permeate this film and make it, in a way, a political picture. While it is not a film to be hashed over on partisan grounds, The Order of the Phoenix is about the individual and his relationship to the establishment. It is yet another way of making the fantasy world of Harry Potter more real and the film is a great example of why fantasy films should be taken seriously and how they can use metaphors (lightly disguised in this case) to address real life issues just as well as (or better than) so-called serious “issue” pictures.
What Doesn’t: The biggest flaw of The Order of the Phoenix is the lack of pay off. Where The Goblet of Fire was capped by the fantastic resurrection of Voldemort and the impending sense of danger and gloom, this film does not leave the story with much of a climax or a cliffhanger. A few new characters are introduced, namely Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) but The Order of the Phoenix does not do much of anything with her. Although she does come to bear in later installments, her presence in The Order of the Phoenix sets up an expectation that isn’t fulfilled.
DVD extras: The two disc edition includes deleted scenes and featurettes.
Bottom Line: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not only a very good fantasy film but a fine picture in its own right with much more to say about education and youth than many self-important Hollywood issue pictures. Although some viewers might be surprised by the focus on character and political issues over action and magic, the film takes the Harry Potter series another step toward maturity.
Episode: #148 (July 15, 2007); Revised #349 (July 24, 2011)