Archive Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Despite its fourth director in five tries and even a new screenwriter, the Harry Potter franchise takes a huge step forward in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” based off the fifth book in the young adult fantasy series by J.K Rowling. Whereas Harry’s character growth took a backseat in the Mike Newell-directed fourth film, “Goblet of Fire,” “Order of the Phoneix” restores our protagonist to a place of inner turmoil where he is set to achieve great personal growth.

British TV director David Yates takes on the task of directing Michael Goldenberg’s (2003 remake of “Peter Pan”) script and the results are deeper and darker than Harry Potter has ever gone before on the silver screen. Gladly, Yates’ favorite Potter film prior was the third, “Prisoner of Azkaban,” directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who took a much more character-driven take on the series, which resonated more with most fans and critics. Yates successfully restores the series’ intelligence and wit, remaining magical and mysterious but also full of tension and excitement. The pacing is quick like “Goblet of Fire,” but our portrait of Harry is in greater detail.

In “Order of the Phoenix,” Harry (Radcliffe) takes a step closer to his destiny as he learns more and more about Voldemort (Fiennes), the man who killed his parents and has tried to kill Harry in the past. Although Voldemort has returned, the Ministry of Magic, the governing body over wizards and witches, have been denying it to the public and spinning it to make Harry and his headmaster at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore (Gambon) look like conspirators. That brings Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts, a power-hungry old woman who takes the school under her control and fills it with propaganda. Harry and his friends must now take things into their own hands to prepare for Voldemort’s inevitable rise to power.

As Voldemort’s return to power looms fast-approaching in the distance, a dark overtone sweeps through all of this film and Yates is sure to use proper foreshadow to keep it so. His ace is Staunton, the series’ most vivid antagonist to date. She’s deranged in the pink and frilly sort of way and takes over Hogwarts with a laugh and a smile. In response, Harry forms an underground club where he teaches magic self-defense to fellow friends and students such as the usual Ron and Hermione (Grint and Watson), more extensive parts from Neville (Matthew Lewis), Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and Harry’s crush Cho (Katie Leung) and new character played by Evanna Lynch, the odd and spacey Luna Lovegood.

But the film belongs to Radcliffe. This is his most trying performance as Harry yet and he meets great success. Harry is having constant nightmares in the story in addition to the one unfolding before him. Radcliffe really has to juggle anger, fear and his new role of leader. Thanks to some great writing and direction too, we understand exactly what Harry’s going through at every turning point.

Most thrilling, however, is we get to see wizard-fighting-wizard action for the first time. It’s beautiful, scary and really intense. Choreographer Paul Harris helps turn this wand-fighting into an art form and the visual effects crew does the rest with sparks flying and characters zooming about in puffs of smoke. Action can finally be added to the list of genres that Harry Potter applies to and without embellishment.

Just as Harry Potter begins to embrace his destiny in this film, “Order of the Phoenix” accepts the darkness that these books naturally have evolved toward and it does so with not only great visuals that bring the novel to life, but with Harry’s inner struggle. Yates understands this and as long as he’s there, we can count on the remaining two adaptations to do great justice to this story.

4/5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Directed by David Yates
Written by Michael Goldenberg, J.K. Rowling
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman


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