A new year at Hogwarts is brought to us by a new creative team, building off what has come, as should be expected. This building of the story is greated with an increasing issue of accessibility. I have found that each successive outing makes it a little bit harder for newcomers. You almost need to have seen the previous four films before going into this one in order to get the full effect. Now, I know that there are probably very few viewers like that, but I found myself feeling a little at a disadvantage, as it has been awhile since I’ve seen Goblet of Fire, but I think I fared pretty well. This outing picks up with Harry feeling the dramatic effects from the conclusion of the last film, leading us into a world that is getting considerably darker than it had been. The Order of the Phoenix is a step up as a film from the last one, and promises that the true darkness is yet to come.
The Goblet of Fire came to a close following a battle between Harry and the returning Voldemorte which resulted in the death of fellow student Cedric Diggory. This death and the the danger that Voldemorte represents lies heavily upon the head of young Harry. The weight is evident in the very first scene, which is one of the few, so far, to take place away from Hogwarts and its related areas, and occur in the “real” world. Harry, wearing an face that is much more angst-ridden and weary beyond his years expression, has a confrontation with his cousin, Dudley, which is stopped short by the appearance of a pair of Dementors on the prowl for the young wizard. Left with little choice, Harry casts a spell to save himself and Dudley, an action which results in his prompt expulsion. You see, it is against the rules for minors to cast spells away from the school.
This brings Harry back together with his permanent companions, Hermione and Ron, and also introduces him to The Order of the Phoenix, a group that is all about putting a stop to Voldemorte’s advances. All this before they even get back to the school!
Anyway, once they get back to school, Harry must go before a council to win back his spot at the school. This sequence goes a long way towards setting up the best conflict of this go around. That being between Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic. The Ministry has been badmouthing Harry and his mentor for claiming the return of Voldemorte, so they have been actively attempting to discredit the two, and for a little while it seems to be working.
A couple of new characters are introduced in The Order of the Phoenix, the best being Dolores Umbridge. She enters in the revolving door of Professor of the Defence of Dark Arts, if you are looking for trouble, this is the first teacher you should look for. She is, essentially, a tool for the Ministry to move into the school, where she employs all sorts of new rules. Imelda Staunton’s portrayal of the woman is that of a sweet, but stubborn, woman who really needs a good smacking. I guarantee that by the end of the movie you will want to throttle the woman. terribly effective. The other is a new student named Luna (Evanna Lynch), not sure where they are going with her, but I found her to be a little bit creepy.
The Order of the Phoenix offers considerable growth in its title character. Gone are the big eyes and smiles of wonder, gone is the “magic” of youth, slowly being replaced with the moodiness of the teenage years. Harry is recognizing the real dangers around him, and he is becoming more of an adult, making decisions and hesitantly taking up a leadership role in the battle that is to come. It is interesting to think of the growth that he has had over the course of five movies, to see it visualized os quite good. Daniel Radcliffe slips into character like a worn in coat, he has been playing so long that it cannot take long to get into that mindset and become this young man that seems to attract danger.
This is a definite step up from its predecessor, it delivers on a story level that I did not find last time. The stakes are higher, and the darkness is growing. Is the film perfect? No, but it still delivers some excitement. The narrative felt a little choppy at times, but still better than last time, and there seemed to be more actual plot to this one. From the Dumbledore/Ministry conflict to the Harry/Voldemorte conflict, to Harry stepping up as something of a leader and the way the friends stick together, there is some great chemistry and forward motion.
Director David Yates brings a stronger vision than Mike Newell did last time, and is more on par with Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban. I am happy that he has been signed to direct the sixth film as well, so we will be able to see how his vision continues as the stakes continue to become higher. This film also brought in a new screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg, replacing Steve Kloves, who had written all four of the prior films. He developed a nice script, for the most part, that really allowed the characters and their relationships to grow (except for the big kiss, which felt like a throwaway scene just for the fans). There is also a new composer in Nicholas Hooper, who has brought a nice touch to the film with a strong score that successfully builds the emotions throughout.
Bottomline. This is a good movie, not my favorite, that remains with Prisoner of Azkaban, but likely falls somewhere between the first and The Chamber of Secrets. The acting is all quite good (I loved everything featuring Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, and Imelda Staunton). It was quite thrilling as the conclusion came around. Of course, I still have issues with the big stuff only happening during the school year in and around Hogwarts, but it is a conceit I think i can live with. Anyway, go see it, enjoy it, and look forward to the next one.