Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix review by Cinema Guru Boy

I've said this many times before, but I should re-emphasize this. When dealing with fanboy flicks or franchise movies, it is the details that matter. An over-arching impression is not good enough to determine whether a film meets, falls short of, or excedes expectations. Therefore, I feels a responcibility to discuss this in depth, thus I must issue a full-fledged spoiler warning.

I also must divulge from where I am coming from regarding my interpretation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I'm a big fan of the books, having read all of them multiple times, as well as an assortment of theory and companion books. I've liked the take everyone has taken on the films, although I've felt that the Chris Columbus stretch of the franchise felt flat and lacked much emotion, although they were more faithful to the source material. Cuaron breathed life into the third installment, and Newell tried to continue Cuaron's approach, but told a fragmented story, although the film ultimately turned out entirely enjoyable. Which brings us to the fifth installment, and yet another new director in feature film rookie David Yates.

The film begins in the "real world" with Harry in Little Whinning, being bullied by his cousin Dudley and his rag-tag gang. Suddenly, the weather goes bad and and an impending sense of doom sweeps over the scene. Yates knew what this scene was about and I don't think anyone could have asked for much more out his interpretation. The heavy intesity without a tangible threat is a difficult circumstance to convey with visuals, but it was beautiful. I got goosebumps. Without warning, the Dementors arrive, although with a makeover. They don't look like the Dementors Alfonso Cuaron showed us in The Prisoner of Azkaban. But they looked good, they were creepy and terrifying. They did, however, keep the same effect of the Dementors sucking one's soul from his body. And once Harry chases them away with the patronus charm, we finally meet Mrs. Figg for the first time, though it was implied she'd been on the fringes of the story the whole time. From beginning to end, Yates pulled off this sequence absolutely flawlessly; he knows perfectly well how to suck in an audience right off the bat. However, a flaw with this is sub-plot is that it was never resolved. Why were the Dementors there? How did they know where Harry was and why did they want to attack him? We book fans know that Umbridge sent them, as she knew Harry was making the Ministry of Magic looks bad, thus disposing of Harry would be in the best intrests of the Ministry. However, the film never confronted this. From a cinematic point of view, one might assume they were sent by Voldemort, however, the Dementors did not return to Voldemorts command until halfway through the film, when the mass breakout of Azkaban occurs. I guess the audience is just kind of supposed to not question this and accept it for what it was, but I saw this as sloppy storytelling.

The first major theme of the film Yates visits is the bond between Harry and Sirius. Arriving to the Order of the Phoenix's headquarters, Grimmauld Place, Sirius's house, we immediately see Sirius doing everything he can to include Harry with the Order, even at the dismay of every adult surrounding him, including Molly Weasley and Alastor Moody. This is an obvious kinship Sirius feels toward Harry, a brotherly connection of feeling Harry as his equal, not as a protective parental figure, like Molly feels toward Harry. Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg handled this relationship so well, as it is absolutely imperitive we feel this emotional connection to Sirius that Harry feels.

The next major theme involves Professor Dumbledore's lack of emotional attachment to Harry. It began at Harry's hearing for the Improper Use of Magic By Underage Wizards and Witches and continued through a large chunk of the film until Harry finally blows up at Dumbledore. Everytime he clearly intentionally turned his back to Harry, that feeling of resentment was translated so well to the audience. However, what was the purpose? This was never capitalized upon. Those of us who are book fans know very well that Dumbledore knew of the spritual/mental link between Harry and Voldemort, thus would risk Voldemort seeing into Dumbledore's mind. However, that explanation, or any more cinematic-appropriate explanation, was never given. Yates and Goldenberg dropped the ball on this one.

This leads to one of the strongest pieces of the puzzle, that being the representation of Harry's state of mind. The depiction of his dreams, his restless sleep, his daytime hallucinations, and Voldemort's messing with his head was all genius. This truly created a vulnerable character, which believably submitted to teen angst. This is the deepest that the character of Harry has ever been, and this can attributed to Yates every bit as much (maybe moreso) as to Daniel Radcliffe. I have no place to create any complaints in this area.

Upon being introduced to new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, she embodies everything that author JK Rowling must have intended. She was so callously, insincerely sweet, Imelda Staunton fulfilled Umbridge's potential supremely. The interchange between Umbridge and Harry in the scene in which Harry insists upon Voldemort's return is fantastic acting on each of their parts. Brilliant work. On the other side, many supporting characters had to give up a lot of screen time. The Weasley twins got their big signature drop-out scene, although it was toned down too much, as their ruckus didn't cause any lasting effect (and I would loved to have heard the line, "Give her hell from us, Peeves!" even if it meant a reference to a character non-existant in the cinematic world of Harry Potter). A big contribution to the twins' decreased screentime can be attributed to the complete removal of Quidditch from the movie, in which they had some of their best moments in the novel. Another character who got all but ignored was Nymphadora Tonks, who recieved a cameo near the beginning, never to be seen again (at least not with any substance). This can also be said of Bellatrix LeStrange, who was reduced to a glorified cameo. These used to be intriguing characters, but I suppose cutting an 870-page novel down to a 138-minute film means slashing characters down to cameoes. Well, those are the breaks.

One large flaw in story-telling came when Harry saw Arthur Weasley attacked, thus alerting the Order to save him. In the next scene, Arthur was perfectly fine. A few scrapes and bruises, but completely free from any mortal danger. This was a nice, easy lob for some intense dramatic tension. Will he live!? Will he die!? What the hell!? There needed to be a scene in between to slow down the pace to insert this very appropriate drama. And I have the very scene in mind, a very important one, in my humble opinion, that was deleted from the movie. I would have liked to have seen the kids go visit Arthur at St. Mungo's hospital, maybe even change the story and put Arthur in a coma for now. Then have that pivitol moment where Harry runs into Neville and his Gran visiting Neville's parents. This would have been a heavy moment and would have made part seven feel more weighty. But they blew another prime chance at intense drama.

Hagrid recieved a few nice scenes, and he used every minute of them very well. I've always been huge on Robbie Coltrane in this role, and I don't see myself souring on him any time soon. However, it felt like his story line was only there to set up the first climax. His character arc was also sacrificed. I was so glad to see Emma Thompson back as Sybil Trelawny, and maybe it would have felt redundant to use Hagrid's arc, as Trelawny's was similar to Hagrid's, thus needed to be reduced for cinematic purposes. I wouldn't have given up Trelawny in favor of Hagrid by any stretch, but I would have preferred to have seen both. Oh, well.

So, I might as well skip to the end. Starting with the first climax, as Umbridge has the kids in custody in her office, this was one of the only times we got anything out of Tom Felton, who has seen his character Draco shrink with each passing movie. Well, he should be happy with a nice, juicy role in the next installment. And the interplay here amongst Snape, Unbridge and Harry was fantastic. Alan Rickman is so brilliant as this complex character, I love every minute he's on-screen. However, his other moment to shine faultered. Maybe Yates and Goldenberg didn't see the occlumency sub-plot as very important, but I felt it was completely bastardized. Snape's flashback scene would have provided brilliant character developement for Snape, Sirius, Pettigrew, James, Lilley, and Lupin. But they jammed this brilliant scene into ten seconds. I was crushed.

Getting back to the climax, I've heard a lot of squalking about the bastardization of the centaur scene. It was condensed, but I felt they got the point across well. Umbridge still insulted them as beings, and with the character developement already laid in The Sorceror's Stone, I felt the centaurs reacted well in character. I was good with this scene. This led to the thestral scene, who I felt were designed beautifully. These disgustingly gorgeous creatures gained my sympathy immediately. Suddenly, we're at the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic. This journey was scaled back tremendously, as the room of prophecies was the first they arrived to, but it felt appropriate, as the journey may have been fun, but it was extraneous. The room was a total credit to the art directors, it was wonderfully creepy, and Lucious's entrance was perfect. I loved it. Leading to the Death Room, the room with the veil, the big battle erupted. First off, I hated the look of the veil. I liked the idea of some crappy-looking low-tech piece of cloth that possessed such incredible power. Oh, well. But the battle itself was brilliant. All the constant disapperation and apperation was so exciting, with all the black and white smoke crossing paths. Beautifully intense. And watching Sirius and Harry fighting the death eaters side-by-side was inspiring. It was sooo well done. Until the end. When Bellatrix pops out of nowhere, points her wand and screams, "Avada Kedavra!", blasting Sirius through the veil, this created a bad feeling in my stomache. It is very important that Sirius's death is a confusing mystery. What the hell does the veil do? What happened to him as he fell through it? How did he die, really? But the movie shot all that to shit. He was blasted with the Avada Kedavra curse. In the cinematic world, he died because he was hit with it. End of story. Why introduce the veil if you're not going to use it? If you're just going to kill him with another means anyway, why bother? What gives? Either leave the veil out of the film or don't use the Avada Kedavra. It's half-assed to try to combine the two, and I don't like it.

Of course, we didn't have too much time to dwell on how much that second of the film sucked, because we were immediately led to a kick-ass fight sequence between Dumbledore and Voldemort. This was hard-effing-core. Seeing two powerful wizards engage in fistcuffs with a bunch of freaky spells was sooo wicked, I can't describe it in words. And once Voldemort possessed Harry, the montage of images that ran through his mind were so great, and told such a powerful story in the course of about 15 seconds, that I don't know how someone could have expected more. This was some top-grade shit.

As the film wrapped up its epilogue, I was sorry to see another one of my favorite scenes omitted. I really wanted to see Harry seek out Nearly Headless Nick and talk to him about the possibility of Sirius becoming a ghost. This scene would've been extraneous, but would've been a really nice epilogue and a great note on which to end things. Over the course of these paragraphs, I'm sorry to say that I haven't mentioned a word about either Kreacher or Evanna Lynch's portrayal of Luna Lovegood. I found Kreacher brilliant, if completely periphial. From what I hear, he was introduced exclusively because he'll be important later on, otherwise he would've been omitted from this installment. Lynch's performance, I felt, completely embodied everything Luna Lovegood represents. She was flaky and airy, but still conveyed some sort of depth of understanding of her surroundings that nobody else had. To play a character with such a duality must be challenging, and Lynch embraced it, really stealing every scene in which she was featured. Not to mention, she was completely adept at the comic relief moments her character provided. Everytime she said the word "pudding," I would lose all control of myself. She was well done.

So, in the whole scheme of the Harry Potter franchise, this was toward the top. There were so many things they did so right, that it kind of made up for the glaring flaws, of which there were many. I would still call The Prisoner of Azkaban my favorite of the series, but this holds a firm second-place stature before the large gap to the third-place Goblet of Fire. Ultimately, I'm glad Yates is returning for The Half-Blood Prince.

But then again, that's just, like, my opinion, man.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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