By Clay W. Ginn Everyone's favorite boy wizard returns in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, though now he is a little more grown up and a lot more serious. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) lead the charge as the students of Hogwarts take on new classes, new teachers, and new enemies. After witnessing the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the death of Cedric Diggory the previous term, Harry's summer at Privet Drive has again taken him away from the magical world. When he returns he finds that very few believe his story of Voldemort, save for his close friends and the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society that has banded together to prevent Voldemort from coming to power. Fellow students Ginny Weasly (Bonnie Wright), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and newcomer Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) join in the fight to keep Voldemort from gaining something which he greatly desires, culminating in a battle between Voldemort's Death Eaters and the members of the Order.
This fifth installment in the Harry Potter saga finds itself trying to compress the story of an 870 page (U.S. version) novel into a 138 minute film. This is a large undertaking, but one that Michael Goldenberg, the screenwriter, does quite well. Fans of the novel will discover that many of the story lines have been altered, some barely, some a great deal. While others have been cut out entirely. The director, David Yates, does a phenomenal job of tying all these elements in together, making the story more important than the special effects, something that some Hollywood blockbusters seem to have forgotten. This is a dark film, both in theme and in color and there are few respites from the darkness. A scene here and there are comical, but much of the film is serious in tone. There is rarely a restful moment, as each scene pushes the story on to it's ultimate conclusion. The effects are beautifully done, bringing the Department of Magic to life and showing the first real magical battle between good and evil. Fred and George Weasley's famous departure from formal education is brilliantly displayed as well.
Order of the Phoenix focuses more on the core characters, giving some of the teachers and parents less to do in the film. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson are more actors than children now, having played these roles for six years. Evanna Lynch plays the flighty Luna to a T, perfectly capturing the qualities of the character from the book. When the adult characters are called upon, they do a fantastic job, as you would expect from the upper echelons of British acting. Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Dame Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) and a host of others reprise their roles from previous films, and newcomers to the series George Harris (Kingsley Shacklebolt), Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) all slip right in to the cast. However, the most prominent newcomer is Imelda Staunton as the pink-clad, cat-loving, teacher everyone wants to hate, Dolores Umbridge. It is hard to imagine that anyone could have been better cast in this role. Staunton steals each scene she is in and is deliciously evil.
Youth who are fans of the books will want to see it. Order of the Phoenix is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and frightening images, and this definitely holds true. However, if they have seen the previous Harry Potter movies, then there is nothing in this one that will seem much scarier. Actually, in order to understand this film, one needs to have seen the previous movies as it jumps right into the story with no explanation of previous events. One of the main themes of this film is that we choose whether we want to do good or evil. This would be a great discussion starter after seeing the film.
Of the five Harry Potter movies now released, I would have to say that this film is one of the best. Each scene is there for a reason, and nothing detracts from the main story. The three main characters are all well played, especially Harry. Daniel Radcliffe has come a long way as an actor since the first in this series. Order of the Phoenix has the excitement and movement of Prisoner of Azkaban, without the plodding that sometimes plagued Goblet of Fire. Order of the Phoenix was actually my least favorite of the books as it seemed to be depressing, but was needed to bring about the events of the next book. This movie actually was more enjoyable because of the compressed storylines. Time will only tell if it sets up the events for the remaining films as well.