This afternoon we went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I was not enthusiastic about seeing this entry in the film series because I hated the book. Fortunately, the film is quite a bit better than the book. Unfortunately, the story still isn’t very good, and the movie is, like the book, the weakest of the series.
Director David Yates thrws down the gauntlet at the beginning of the film that he’s a director, dammit with a fade-in to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) marking time in London and being tormented by Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling) and his cronies: The playground Harry’s in is bleak, Harry’s sitting on a swing, and there are various dramatic camera angles and pans during the opening sequence, when Harry and Dudley are attacked by Dementors. On the one hand it all seems a little too ostentatious, but on the other hand given how easy it would be to do a rote adaptation of Order, I appreciated anything Yates did to liven things up.
And actually Order is the most visually appealing entry in the series after Prisoner of Azkaban: Hogwarts and its environs look beautifully rural, in a dangerous-looking, untamed way. The Order’s safe house is crammed with decor and stuff. The Ministry of Magic is large and imposing and by turns claustrophoic and paranoiac. The thing is really very pretty to look at, and the camerawork fits in pretty nicely.
The film jettisons a lot of the chaff of the book – as it has to, in order to finish in under 12 hours – and at its core are two truths: That the story works best when focusing on Harry’s relationships with his friends and allies, and that the plot feels basically entirely superfluous to the overall arc of the series.
The plot of the story, basically, is this: In Goblet of Fire Harry saw Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes without a nose) come back from the dead. While Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and his allies believe him, Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) and the Ministry of Magic do not, and they believe the Harry’s pronouncement is both a public nusiance, and that it’s part of a power play Dumbledore is making towards the Ministry. Consequently Fudge installed Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) at Hogwarts to push Dumbledore out and squash Harry’s spirit.
In other words, the larger plot boils down to Harry trying to convince those in charge that what really happened, happened!
This leads to some character bits that are both good and bad: Harry spends the early part of the film brooding and feeling alone, which is pretty annoying and just rings false for the character. On the other hand, he ends up in the middle of the resistance against both Umbridge and Voldemort, putting him in a position of authority and trust, where he’s an admirable figure. Radcliffe is much better at playing the hero than the petulant young man, so the latter scenes are a lot more fun. (Radcliffe, by the way, is filling out and looks quite buff – rather different from the stringbean that Harry is.)
The film also points out that the Potterverse is getting weighed down with an awful lot of characters, many of whom no longer get much screen time: Ron (Rupert Grint) has hardly anything to do in the film, Snape (Alan Rickman) has only a small role, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) appears for just two scenes, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is also only in a few. Evanna Lynch is quite good as Luna Lovegood, but the character feels irrelevant. Staunton is appropriately nauseating and loathesome as Umbridge, but she never really gets her comeuppance on-screen, so all the build-up doesn’t have an appropriate catharsis. Even the film’s best moment – the Weasley twins’ kissing off to Umbridge, to a fantastic bit of music by composer Nicholas Hooper – feels like it was tacked on awkwardly.
All things considered: Order does its best to make order out of Order, it’s pretty to look at and has its moments, but it’s still pretty much a mess, mainly because of the source material. It should delight plenty of Harry fans, but I think Azkaban is going to end up being the apex of the movie series.
My Reviews of Earlier Harry Potter Films: