My series looking back at the “Harry Potter” films continues with Year 5, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007):
WHY IT’S GREAT
“Order of the Phoenix” is packed with great new allies (Luna, Tonks), enemies (Umbridge, Bellatrix), locations (Grimmauld Place, the Ministry of Magic) and creatures (a baby giant, thestrals). Franchise first-timers David Yates (director) and Michael Goldenberg (writer) capture that sense of a fresh start while building upon what we know and love. They do a great job boiling down the longest novel of the series to its core point: Students resisting evil authority figures. The students form Dumbledore’s Army as an illegal extracurricular activity, and Harry finds he doesn’t have to face the Death Eaters alone in the final battle; Luna, Neville, Ginny, Ron, Hermione and (eventually) the adults of the Order of the Phoenix are his allies.
Plus, the movie has two of the saga’s best one-liners:
Umbridge: Please, tell them I mean no harm.
Harry: Sorry, Professor, but I must not tell lies.
Bellatrix: Neville Longbottom, isn’t it? How’s mum and dad?
Neville: Better, now they’re about to be avenged!
WHY IT’S NOT SO GREAT
Goldenberg struggles here and there with transitional moments, like Steve Kloves did when he started. For example, Snape is in the Order of the Phoenix meeting, then he’s suddenly not. (In the book, there’s a scene of him departing.) I suspect “Order” might be a bit hard to follow for people who haven’t read the book. And for those who have read it, we do miss some things. I wish Kreacher had more screen time. Others might wish for more Order banter or some Quidditch action.
BEST YOUNG CHARACTER AND ACTOR
Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch): Alan Rickman made Snape his own, and Lynch does the same for Luna, endearingly evoking her sideways view of the world through her wispy but kind-hearted voice and soft expressions. Contrast this with Jim Dale’s more on-the-nose “weird” portrayal in the audiobooks, and it’s clear the actress got it right. Plus, Evanna is adorable as all get-out.
BEST ADULT CHARACTER AND ACTOR
Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton): I don’t enjoy watching Umbridge in the least, but that’s the point: She is the nastiest villain in the saga, and it’s utterly satisfying when Harry and Hermione leave her to the ministrations of Grawp and the centaurs. Staunton perfectly portrays that type of petty tyrant who presents one image to parents and a different one behind the doors of detention; Umbridge is a nightmarish reminder of why we don’t want to repeat our school years.
BEST MOVIE MAGIC
Fred and George’s farewell. With the fireworks show in the Great Hall and in the open skies above Hogwarts, the filmmakers give visual heft to the oh-so-satisfying moment when the Weasley twins decide to quit school and take their chances as joke-product shopkeepers in the real world (well, the real magical world, anyway).
BEST COMEDIC BIT
In a movie where a teacher physically tortures a student, there aren’t going to be a barrel of laughs. But there is a smile-worthy scene where Harry tells Ron and Hermione about how is first kiss with Cho was “wet.” It devolves into an exchange of light insults, and the trio ends up laughing at the collective absurdity of their lives. A runner-up vote goes to Filch (David Bradley) delightedly discovering a Skiving Snackbox, followed by a smash-cut to his face covered with hives; Bradley is a bit of a secret weapon for the series.
BEST DRAMATIC BIT
The obvious answer is the final showdown in the Ministry, which is indeed beautifully staged. But my vote goes to the Dumbledore’s Army training scenes in the Room of Requirement. The title is “Order of the Phoenix,” probably because it sounds cool, but the Order does jack squat to prepare these kids. Instead, Harry (with his usual assist from Hermione) leads the training, and there’s a true sense of accomplishment when we see everyone – even Neville – improving at defensive spellcasting.
WHERE IT RANKS
“Order of the Phoenix” is such a dense novel that to make a merely coherent movie out of it is an accomplishment. But Yates and Goldenberg make an outright thrilling film. It looks great (how about those nighttime London skylines?), it sounds great (with a pensive score that avoids blockbuster bombast), and it’s a satisfying yarn about students fighting the good fight – even if they have to do it on their own. Behind only “Prisoner of Azkaban,” this is the second-best entry up to this point.
Book review: “Order of the Phoenix”
Next movie: “Half-Blood Prince”