Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his fifth year in Hogwarts still recovering from the prior year. A friend died before his eyes. He also battled the much-feared Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and nearly died himself. Unfortunately, for Harry, things do not get easier. Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry of Magic accuse the bespectacled wizard a liar. They refuse to believe that he-who-shall-not-be-named is back. Fudge suspects headmaster Dumbledore is behind this supposed lie, as to undermine the Ministry’s authority. As a response, Fudge sends a Ministry official, one dolorous Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts in Hogwarts. Ms. Umbridge is a domineering woman, a disciplinarian with McCarthy tendencies. She calls for order in school and to her, order entails a risk-free environment – where a lot of things are forbidden, including practicing dangerous spells. With Voldemort rising in power, it is a bad timing to be defenseless. It is up to Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), and the rest of the gang to come together, break some school rules, and learn some tactics on their own.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the darkest one yet in the series. The story is more sinister and gloomier. The cinematography is dimmer. However, the moody style is not scary or as visually intriguing as in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s not that a darker approach is a bad thing. No, not at all. But if the story and visuals are dark, then the film’s emotions need to be dark too. When I read the book, I remember being irritated as Harry, being frustrated as Harry, being conflicted as Harry. When I watched the movie, none of these dark emotions conquered me. I was simply a bystander watching the movie. It does not necessarily ruin the movie; it is a minor complaint. This would have been corrected if Radcliffe had given a rawer and edgier performance. The lad has improved through the years, but his character has grown more complex now. The dude needs to up his game, act like his life depended on it – he’s getting paid tons of Euros, no? I just hope for the next film, director David Yates will push the young cast’s acting to the brink because, guess what, the epic tale will also drive their characters to the edge.

orderofthephoenix-2.jpgWith that quibble out of the way, let us bask in the movie’s greatness. Like the previous effort Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the plot of the latest film is amazingly dense. The film can boast of substance and does not merely go from one big spectacle to another. As usual, the series remains impressive in its production design. There are marvelous set pieces such as a giant pendulum swinging during a final exam. In supporting roles, you can always count on the invaluable British veterans (Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, and Alan Rickman) who professionally excel, even if their appearances are momentary. Newcomers and Oscar nominees Imelda Staunton and Helena Bonham Carter are fine additions. Staunton, who starred as the timid protagonist in Vera Drake, is terrific as Umbridge. She makes the character so creepy by having her constantly smiling (it’s like having an evil clown for a teacher). Meanwhile, Carter is wickedly manic as the female sadist Bellatrix.

Harry Potter movies are always an event in themselves. This is the fifth film and it is unbelievable that the series has yet to grow stale. While the magical innocence and wonder have somewhat vanished, the coming-of-age drama is developing quite nicely. Yes, Harry Potter is growing up fast and the battle between good and evil is drawing closer. But I love that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix climaxes, not by looking forward, but by a breathless flash of the past. Damn, the series has not yet ended and I am already stunned with nostalgic magic.

Grade: A-

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes
Based on the novel by
J.K. Rowling
Screenplay by
Michael Goldenberg
Directed by
David Yates
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images