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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // July 11, 2007
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 12, 2007 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
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Highly Recommended
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Harry Potter aficionados and fanatics slam through a gauntlet of sporadic, shifting tones and qualities across the series' film adaptation. Ranging from the first expansive films that flutter like golden Snitches gracing the screen to the leaner, punchier installments resembling Bludgers of varying intensity, each injection from Hogwarts' bubbling cauldron adds something new to the brew. As the characters evolve, equally does the manner and aggressiveness of the films.

In steps Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth sizeable brick wedged into the foundation of this cinematic empire storming the world much like the J.K. Rowling novels they're based upon. I've blazed through these gripping little slices of fantasy almost as quick as many other die-hard fanatics. To my amazement and after critical disagreement about Order of the Phoenix as a book, this entry into the Potter universe easily seeped into my heart as a favorite. It was the darker tone and fluidly cinematic quality that did it.

David Yates, take your rightful place in the winner's circle. You've grappled the tone of one of the darker Harry Potter stories in Order of the Phoenix, and done so with a richly swirling gruffness that ferociously mirrors the novel's breadth.

Those unfamiliar with this venture into Harry's teenage angst should be prepared for something different than what you might be used to. Instead of the sheepish, wide-eyed wizard that quakes and stands entranced at the smallest inkling of magical whimsy, Harry now stands as a firmly developing staple in the Hogwarts campus. However, he's more like a staple than you might think; instead of leading the pack he's helping to hold together, Harry initially stays detached from most of the other students after a few rough patches from the past year. To various degrees, this includes his partners in crime Ron and Hermoine.

Following the tumultuous events that ravaged the previous year's end, the wizarding world is in upheaval at the prospect of "the" evil villain's imminent return. A war is brewing, not only between the forces of good and evil but also between Hogwarts' School of Magic and the wizard world's Ministry of Magic, which believes Voldemort's return to be fabricated. When the belief of overheads lacks the momentum for action, it's up to the strongest of wizards to take matters into their own wands. Even the youngest of these trailblazers strive to push forward underneath the controlling, watchful eye of this misinformed and controlling company. On this smaller scale, authoritative oversight manifests at Hogwarts inside the saccharine, sublimely evil presence of not-so-undercover teacher Dolores Umbridge.

Order of the Phoenix did something bizarre to my piqued curiosity during the film: It left me silently mumbling the statement "Huh, This is a Harry Potter movie" quite a bit, each time with a smile on my face. And it's because Order of the Phoenix is unlike the other films, draped with darkness and inextinguishable angst, that it works as well as it does. What this disparity and bleak manner accomplishes tends to reflect a bit on what Alfonso CuarĂ³n achieved as director with Prisoner of Azkaban, still my favored of all the Harry Potter films. Each of the characters doesn't necessarily get "lost" in the world of magic, but instead sense the power of this magic and utilize it as a powerful tool. Instead of the spacey, gleeful looks in their faces when they thwart forward a repellant spell or protection charm, there's more of a cutting edge grin that fits their discovery to a point. Imagine what we'd be like if we were that age and started discovering how to throw forward magical bolts of energy. But worry not, magical adrenaline lovers. There's plenty of electrically infused magical potency within Order of the Phoenix in spurting flickers leading up to an astoundingly replicated grand finale to satisfy those wispy, movie-going indulgent eyes.

A more natural demeanor about the whimsical core of this series also means a much more natural air about each of the characters that grasp its capacity. With the stringently adapted efforts from Columbus' airy, atmospheric introductory films and Newell's collaborative assembly with Goblet of Fire, the nature of Hogwarts and its magic swallows up the characters and neglects to give them a fluid sense of realism. They're formulated, strong, and glaringly characteristic, but lack that sense of realism needed to share an affinity with them as "people". There's where David Yates, while working with easily adaptable material in that sense, has achieved true characters with drive and purpose.

Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson as our heroic triad have all developed their acting chops admirably over the years, standing quite strong against their prominent elders. Though Hermoine and Ron amongst other students and faculty members stand aside and to the back of Harry a bit more than in the other films, that's both fairly reflective of the material and appropriate for the brooding, separated troubles Harry endures. Matched with the pleasantly gruff performance from Gary Oldman as Sirius Black and, to almost show-stopping levels, the grating presence of Imelda Staunton's Umbridge, these key characters from the Harry Potter universe conjure up a strikingly natural and affecting momentum.

But the steadfast drive underneath these overbearing efforts from Umbridge and the Ministry gives this film a quieter, buzzing tone akin to an enraged group of wasps within a glass jar. Frustration sets in and that sick, nerved feeling swells in your gut as the authoritative magicians persistently, and effectively, muddle in the affairs at Hogwarts. Most importantly, you actually see that sense of urgency to break loose from this thick tension. There's a lot of the rebellious anxiety of younger adults swimming around in the narrative, yet it seems almost null and void within the purpose they fight for. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, though not a bombastic acceleration through narrative, holds more tension within its subdued stringency than any amount of outlandish bravado could've provided. Once this tension mounting starts to fold atop of itself amidst the 135+ minute runtime, you'll be glad those fluent, twisting knots worked as well as they did on your insides.

How does a director take an 800-page tale of darkness, coming-of-age, and suppression and craft something that shaves down, enhances, and ensnares the core material? David Yates has tackled said challenge admirably. Sure, a few moments of grinding, flinching changes might find their way like needle pricks into the hearts of purists. However, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not only gets an incredible amount right with its time with the audience as a properly dark fantasy film, it takes many points well beyond expectations. Oh, and those expecting one whopper of a conclusion are in for an explosive, dizzying treat.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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