Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Bradley, Tom Felton, Jamie Waylett, Joshua Herdman, James & Oliver Phelps, Bonnie Wright, Chris Rankin, Devon Murray, Alfred Enoch, Matthew Lewis, Katie Leung, Robert Hardy, Harry Melling, Evanna Lynch, George Harris, Natalia Tena.
Synopsis: Voldemort is coming. With the Ministry Of Magic refusing to acknowledge this fact, Harry, Ron and Hermione must raise their own army from the students within Hogwarts, all without the permission of Dumbledore. As the return of the dark lord moves close, the pawns and players all make a move to position themselves in the right place for battle, for victory, for defeat.
The fifth instalment in the Harry Potter franchise takes us into darker and darker places than anything that’s come before it. When Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors from Azkaban, Harry saves him from certain death by using his magic: something which is forbidden in the real world by the Ministry Of Magic. Placed on trial, and defended by Dumbledore, political motivations running deeper within the Ministry seem to indicate a change of power balance at Hogwarts in on the cards.
As I’ve previously mentioned in other Harry Potter reviews, I’ve never read any of the JK Rowling books on which this series is based. Which allows me to look purely at the films subjectively, without the imaginative colouring of the books in the back of my mind. So I come to Order Of The Phoenix expecting a darker, more adult Potter than previous entries, only to discover not only that my expectations have been met, but exceeded. The film deals with substantially more adult themes this time around, especially in light of Cedric Diggory’s (Twilight’s Robert Pattinson) untimely demise at the hands of Voldemort in the Goblet of Fire. Voldemort’s underlings are starting to position themselves in readiness for the return of the dark lord, and those who can see this happening are unable to do anything about it due to the Ministry of Magic’s reticence to believe He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is actually coming back.
To counter the Ministry’s belief that Dumbledore is raising a secret army to battle Voldemort, they send Dolores Umbridge to the school to undermine and counteract this insurgency. The bulk of the film is taken up with Harry, Ron and Hermione’s battle to keep Umbridge from completely ruining Hogwarts, as she becomes increasingly more paranoid whilst there, removing teachers and putting up Ministerial decrees that make a mockery of freedom and common sense. Dumbledore grows increasingly distant, almost aloof from the evident Ministry interference, so Harry decides to build up an army from his fellow students to battle Voldemort upon his return.
Order Of The Phoenix isn’t exactly a great film. Let’s be honest, it’s really just a precursor to the films we want to see: The Deathly Hallows, which will deal with Voldemort’s actual return. Here, as with Goblet Of Fire (and The Half Blood Prince), we’re only seeing the bit-players jostling for position in the new order, a vague pseudo-political theme running through this film from start to finish. The problem with the Potter films is that they’re building up to something greater, always building, never really giving us a true pay-off emotionally. Order’s finale, in which Voldemort and Harry, as well as a reluctant Dumbledore, battle each other in the very heart of the Ministry of Magic, is awesome to watch, but holds very little real tension due to the serialised nature of the story. Order’s story elements are merely window dressing to the big showdown.
The quality of the acting and production values in each successive Potter film have followed the same upwards trajectory, and Order is no different. The young tyro cast are now more comfortable in their characters’ skins as well as performing in front of the camera, and director David Yates gives us an “interpretation” of the Potter mythos, rather than series’ original director Chris Columbus’ more slavish versions. What I was most impressed with with Yates’ direction was his refusal to open and close each scene cleanly. What do I mean by that? Watching Columbus’ first entries, Philosophers Stone and Chamber Of Secrets, and you get the sense that he takes every scene as one of momentous importance. A wide establishing shot opens each scene, cut to the action, and then a wide closing shot to go out on. Each scene, almost edited in template format, copy and paste each time. Yates, however, eschews the explanatory stuff and just dives into the action. There’s no set-up, just go for it. Which was a shock at first, but enjoyable once I got used to it. No doubt driven by a compulsion to somehow get a thousand page novel into an audience-friendly length film, Order never lags or becomes slow during it’s running time. It’s a film containing only meat: there’s no story fat to be found here. Which is a commendable effort on Yates’ behalf.
Nicholas Hooper’s re-working of John William’s original themes for the music is solid, evolving into a darker, more melancholy score befitting the direction this film goes. Alongside DOP Slawomir Idziak’s stunning lensing of Orders dark moments, and the aforementioned editing with Mark Day, this film is a production stunner.
Since I’m a critic (of sorts) I guess I should try and find something to complain about with Order Of The Phoenix. After all, I did say it wasn’t a great film. If I had any complaints, it’s perhaps the increasingly maddening stunt casting this franchise has stuck with, and it’s hits home here. Gary Oldman look like he’s mistaken Harry Potter for quality drama, and now wishes he’d recanted his agreement to appear as Sirius Black in the series. His performance reeks of “couldn’t be bothered”, and this bothers me. Helena Bonham Carter has performed the same type of role in a dozen other films (usually ones directed by eternal gloomy guts Tim Burton) and it’s starting to get old. The rest of the series stalwarts do an admirable job, even if they’re given very little to do here (Gambon especially seems bored with the whole thing now) and play second fiddle to the three main leads. Mind you, this is all really just nit-picking, and doesn’t detract from the film overall.
About the only people who won’t enjoy this film are those who go into it cold, without seeing the previous instalments. But let’s face it, there won’t be too many of those! Order Of The Phoenix feels exciting, if only for the fact that it’s great to see this story starting to get to the meat of Rowling’s epic story. It does lack real emotional depth, due perhaps to it’s serialised nature, but on the whole is an entertaining trip into the darker side of the Potter universe.