Potter has reached that awkward age. As hormones race through
his body, he becomes surly and paranoid. For the first time,
he learns that some of the trusted and pristine adults around
him are just as human as he is. And boy, does he really
want that Cho Chang.
for the summer, the franchise hasn't grown awkward. If anything,
since Alfonso Cuaron showed us what could be done with Harry,
it's grown stronger and more assured. Harry must be drinking
a lot of milk.
Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does take a pretty
dark turn in both page and screen, but Rowling was headed
there anyway in The Goblet
of Fire. From the first moments, director David
Yates imbues it with foreboding. On a bleak English playground,
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) gets the usual taunting from his
cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). But this time, something's
different, and when Harry loses his temper, the skies blacken
and for the first time he and his cousin bond over mutual
there, Harry learns of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret
society dedicated to combating Lord Voldemort. In the Wizard
society at large, though, Harry has been branded a liar
for claiming that the Dark One has returned. Ensuring that
he and his friends - or perhaps an entire generation of
Wizards - will be muzzled, the Ministry of Magic assigns
Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to keep a tight rein
on things at Hogwarts.
because you're paranoid, Harry, doesn't mean they're out
to get you. With these kinds of odds against him, it's easy
to see why he'd forget the allies he actually has.
newcomer Yates handles all this with flair that echoes the
work of Cuaron but becomes its own project. Unlike the previous
films, Yates takes the chance of juxtaposing the real world
with the elements of magic, creating the most stirring of
the flying scenes and making a strong comment on the ignorance
of the normal world.
his strengths really lie with the small moments, drawing
some of the most believable scenes of the series - an underplayed
confession of affection from Dumbledore (Michael Gambon),
Harry's unconscious adaptations of Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes)
tics and the happy pink evil of Umbridge.
Umbridge, Staunton nearly steals the film. Her bright smile
covers a black heart even from herself. Earnestly destroying
everything that Hogwarts stands for, bluntly considering
Dumbledore's stewardship as "change for the sake of change,"
Umbridge may be even more chilling than Voldemort. Yates
keeps her in bright pastels and surrounds her office with
cat plates. As part of her efforts, she starts removing
things like music and art, making sure that all the students
can contemplate are their studies. Nice to know that in
England as much as here, our culture focuses way too much
on achievement testing and not enough on practical education.
differs from J.K. Rowling's description in the novel, but
that, too, is one of the strengths of this film. The producers
have learned that their job should be to capture the spirit
of Rowling's work, not slavishly follow the template of
her novel. Again, Cuaron showed the way, but here Yates
and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg really run with it without
pared the plot down to its bare bones, and it flies by,
still retaining everything that's truly important. Without
belaboring the issue, Yates and Goldenberg give us the tragedies
and redemptions of students Neville Longbottom (Matthew
Lewis) and newcomer Luna Lovegood (newcomer Evanna Lynch).
They're the odd ones out, but they too have lost as much
as Harry, so that when he trains in secret for a confrontation
with Voldemort, we sense the urgency that these other characters
Harry, we also get the sense that his treasured family myths
aren't what he thought. Yates plants just enough seeds here
to pick up again in The Half-Blood Prince, but not
in a way that feels like a cliffhanger. Instead, subtle
performances from Radcliffe and Alan Rickman capture the
emotion in satisfying shorthand.
again, the producers lucked out years ago in their casting.
Radcliffe has grown into a British Clark Kent, matched by
Rupert Grint and Hermione Watson, indelibly becoming their
characters. Surrounding them are some of the best actors
alive, all willing to come back for brief moments here in
their dedication to being part of this story. David Thewlis
is almost in a blink and you miss him state here, yet the
compassion of his character comes through.
absences here make sense, too. After the first film, the
ghosts of Hogwarts disappeared, but that has to happen in
order for the darkness of the last films have weight. It's
hard to feel real loss, from Cedric Diggory in The Goblet
of Fire onward, if we know there's some way that death
really isn't binding in the Wizarding world.
Potter and the Order of the Phoenix stands pretty solidly.
As a franchise, it just keeps getting better and better,
even as it turns darker and darker. I don't know that there's
a better metaphor for being a teenager.