Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth installment in J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series, meaning we are now halfway through the highly successful series of films set in the Wizarding World! This film is considerable for a number of different reasons – most notably, perhaps, is that it’s the series debut for director David Yates who went onto direct the next three films in the Harry Potter series as well as both installments in the Fantastic Beasts series. Ironically, the longest book in the series at 766 pages, Order of the Phoenix is the second shortest film ahead of the final Deathly Hallow film, clocking out at just shy of 140 minutes (not exactly short, granted). Although the film built upon the box-office return of Goblet of Fire by nearly 40 million and was the highest-grossing film in the series at that time behind only Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone, critics and moviegoers hold the sentiment that it is the weakest film of the series overall. In-retrospect, if you recall, I, on other-hand, had remembered Goblet of Fire as the weakest film. And so, I was curious about where I would land in the end.
Even if Goblet of Fire might have seemed as though it left a lot of money on the table as far as its unique premise is concerned, I can still remember the goosebumps as I saw Lord Voldemort slithering around Harry at the end. Something had been set in-motion that couldn’t be undone. After all the anticipation and build-up, The Dark Lord had returned! And yet, with Order of the Phoenix, it feels incremental and transitional. This doesn’t necessarily detriment the series’ overall credibility, but it does detriment this film when it is isolated from the sum of Harry Potter as a whole and is isolated to only itself. After Dumbledore’s harrowing decree that the Dark Lord has returned, skepticism has arisen, particularly from the Ministry of Magic.
This makes a lot of sense – Voldemort wreaked havoc and traumatized the entire Wizarding World. The same way Wizards escape discovery by muggles because so often they only see “what they want to see” or what they can perceive, no one in the wizard community can fathom the idea that Voldemort has come back. They are so terrified of the man that most of them won’t even utter his name! This makes sense, and yet, that in itself doesn’t do a lot to capture my attention.
The story follows Harry Potter’s fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and sees a familiar cast of characters return, many of them uniting to form the Order of the Phoenix, an organization founded by Dumbledore meant to act a resistance to Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Magic and the media is doing damage-control, doing their best to suppress any information about you-know-who and his return. Soon, Hogwarts finds itself infiltrated by the Ministry as Minister Cornelius Fudge appoints Delores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which brings a whirlwind of controversy, which sees her filling the minds of Harry’s classmates with propaganda and inflicting heinous, cruel forms of punishment.
This is a comparison I make with the kindest intent, but, in a lot of ways, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix reminds me of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Let me be clear – The Phantom Menace was a bad film. The dialogue was badly written, the special-effects were abysmal, and more often than not, the acting left a lot to be desired.
The Order of the Phoenix isn’t like that by any stretch. The special-effects are commendable and the cinematography has continued its gradual transition into a darker, more Gothic aesthetic, complimented by a cast of characters that are up to the challenge of complimenting it. Daniel Radcliffe continues to grow into the Harry Potter character, no longer coming across as an every man template, now feeling like a real character with real emotions, like anger and resentment, and hope, and even, at times, conventional teenage-angst.
The reason I find myself making that comparison is because, while I watched Phantom Menace, I couldn’t help but think to myself – this feels like busy-work. Whereas Phantom Menace focused on the Trade Federation and intergalactic politics … and, I guess, Darth Maul, kind-of, this Potter film focuses on Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry’s denial and a mean school teacher. I wouldn’t call it as humdrum as Phantom Menace, because it isn’t a story that came from thin-air, but a logical story progression, however, it can’t help but feel like Harry needed something to do until everything could be set in-motion.
Imelda Staunton does well in her role as Umbridge, creating a character you love to hate, and Helena Bonham Carter feels like a natural fit for Bellatrix, especially given the darker, drearier visuals carrying into the film.
This remains Harry Potter and Harry Potter remains very entertaining and very watchable. Regardless, after seeing the Dark Lord’s return in Goblet of Fire and all that anticipation, at best, Order of the Phoenix feels like a solid hype man in the series’ progression. Unlike Goblet of Fire, which, at least had an (admittedly) under-cooked dynamic involving the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Order of the Phoenix feels like a bridge that needs to be crossed for the series to move onto bigger and better things.
Placement on the List: – The (Lower Tier) Goods