Few films come out each year that are forced to meet some extremely high expectations, but any Harry Potter movie is expected to be grand. Thus far, Warner Brothers has released four terrific films that both appeased die hard fans and entertained everyone else. In fact, the movies have risen in quality ever since The Sorcerer's Stone premiered way back in 2001.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the franchise, is a good film. In the scheme of things, it is better than most of the movies that will come out this year. Unfortunately, it is also the worst of the franchise, by far.
It is currently 3 a.m., and I have to wake up at 7 a.m., and needless to say, I'll be focusing on the negatives for much of the review. Fans of the movies/books, of which there are quite a few, will be generally pleased with this latest entry, but I can't imagine they will be blown away. The past four movies, while continuing to get darker and darker as Voldemort slowly rises to power, still managed to be consistently entertaining, engaging and magical. Order of the Phoenix lacks much of the magical awe that the other movies had. Unlike the others, there is no real sense of discovery or fascination, and when there is, it seems forced or underdeveloped.
In fact, the whole movie feels a bit underdeveloped. While still keeping a pretty good pace other than a few slow chatty scenes between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Sirius (Gary Oldman), scenes felt rushed, unimaginative and at times, poorly edited. It's easy to place blame, and I will, on the two newcomers to the franchise, director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg. Warner Brothers has dabbled with different directors for many of the Harry Potter movies, peaking with Alfonso Cuaron's imaginative and well-done version of The Prisoner of Azkaban, and up until this point has gotten things right. What I saw out of David Yates was not much more than a rather bland directorial effort. When he tries to be edgy, his style seemed out of place, and the rest of the time, there is nothing exciting in terms of cinematography, set design or editing. Don't get me wrong - the directing is good enough to piece together a story - but this film seems more like a throw back to the first film, and we've come a long way since then.
For some reason, screenwriter Steve Kloves, who is responsible for the first four films and the final two, didn't write The Order of the Phoenix, and it shows. Kloves has grown comfortable in adapting 900-page novels into two and a half hour movies, but Goldenberg struggled here. His dialogue is fine, for the most part, but some of the scenes seem cluttered and others underdeveloped. Obviously, he couldn't fit everything from the book into the movie (not that I can remember what happens in the book anyway), but there are a lot of little things that are missing. Most importantly, what is the Order of the Phoenix? We get introduced to some of the characters, but not formally introduced, and the movie never explains what the Order is or what its purpose is. Having read the book several years ago, I cannot remember, and it seems as though Goldenberg left this important detail out.
As for the rest of the movie, it's still entertaining. The young actors continue to grow - not without their flaws, but overall pretty good. The real highlight is Imelda Staunton, who plays the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Dolores Umbridge. She is absolutely perfect in the movie, capturing exquisitely an evil bitch hidden underneath a layer of pink and cheeriness.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is pretty good considering its story is one of the weaker of the series, to no fault of anyone involved with the film. The movie is, by definition, a middle film, something meant to connect the dots. It is essentially a training sequence in disguise, and only features a rather uninspiring action scene near the end (which in itself seems rushed and not nearly as emotional as the finale in The Goblet of Fire, despite featuring the death of a big character).
Compare it to most other movies in the year and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix stands up quite well, but compare it to the franchise and it looks like the ugly little sister. It has the least interesting story out of the five movies thus far, but even still it could have been better with a more cohesive screenplay and more interesting directing. It worries me that David Yates is also signed on to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as I really don't think he did a good enough job with this one. Still, a recommended film, but it could have been so much better.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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