Film Review: 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' (2007)
A fun fact. This is the only Harry Potter film I never saw in theatres. I got into Harry Potter as a kid when the first few books came out, and later the first few films. But then I sort of lost interest in it for a while, around the time when the Order of the Phoenix film and the final book were released. I later got back into it and got myself caught up, but there were a few years when I went through a dry spell in my otherwise loyal fandom.
It's kind of a shame I never saw this one in theatres, as it's one of my favourites. I know I've been gushing about the series a lot already, but I really mean it. This is probably my second or third-favourite Harry Potter film overall.
The series has had a few different directors. And, in Order of the Phoenix's case, a different screenwriter too; it's the only film written by Michael Goldenberg instead of Steve Kloves. I wonder if that's why this film has a unique feel to it compared to the other entries. They all feel distinct from each other to an extent, but I notice it especially with this one.
Even though the director of this film, David Yates, would go on to direct the rest of the series as well, his first film here feels stylistically out-of-sync with his later efforts. It wasn't until Half-Blood Prince that he seemed to settle into his signature style.
I remember reading a comment from someone online complaining about this, saying that the films didn't have enough of a cohesive feeling because of the changing directors and variations in style/tone. While I understand what s/he's saying, I enjoyed how each installment felt different. It was a good way to help keep a long-running series feeling fresh.
As the film begins, we're left with the sense that nothing is the same any more. Even Goblet of Fire, until near the end, was a fairly upbeat movie. Order of the Phoenix immediately starts us on a more sombre note. We open on a moody summer afternoon with Harry coming to a playground and sitting on a swing, and watching a young boy with his mother. Though we don't know what Harry is thinking, I can imagine him filled with longing for his own parents at that moment.
After his horrific ordeal last year, he is implied to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as he is having nightmares about Cedric and the return of Voldemort. In fact, the Dark Lord's return has triggered a connection between his mind and Harry's, giving Harry disturbing visions. Things don't get much better for Harry from there. Soon after, he's attacked by Dementors and is barely able to fend them off. And after he does fend them off, he comes home to discover that he's been expelled from Hogwarts for underage magic use outside school.
This leads to a court case at the Ministry of Magic to get the issue resolved. Harry also finds out that the Ministry of Magic is launching a smear campaign against him and Dumbledore in a desperate attempt to keep the peace and disprove their claim that Voldemort has returned. When Harry finally makes it to Hogwarts later, he is met with hostility and distrust from some of his fellow students who've bought into what the ministry is saying.
And if all that wasn't enough, the ministry decides to take a more hand's-on approach with the educational curriculum at Hogwarts this year...
Here we're introduced to Luna Lovegood, one of the best characters in all of Harry Potter. She was already a lot of fun in the books, but they really nailed the casting here. Pretty much all the casting was well-done, but Luna especially stands out. Even her introduction scene is memorable. We meet her on a carriage reading a magazine upside-down, and wearing a necklace that she says is a charm to ward off "Nargles". Seriously, how can you not love Luna? It’s also touching that she's one of the few people (at least initially) to believe Harry when he says Voldemort is back.
As if purposefully designed to counteract Luna's lovable nature, we also meet our next new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Dolores Jane Umbridge.
J.K. Rowling populated her world with so many lovable characters, but she also excels at creating absolutely vile, horrible scum of human beings. Umbridge, however, manages to top them all. Wow. I don't think Rowling could have possibly conceived of a more awful person. In some ways, Umbridge may be Rowling's finest creation. The last time I rewatched this film with my mother, when Umbridge first showed up at Hogwarts, my mother's reaction was perfect. She didn't even say anything. She just groaned. I couldn't agree more.
Many people, myself included, find Umbridge more loathsome than Voldemort, which is odd when you think about it. As far as Voldemort's evil deeds go and his sheer reign of terror, he's definitely the bigger monster of the two. But he's also not the type of person you'd be likely to encounter in real life. What makes Umbridge so detestable is that she's cruel in a more realistic way.
The other thing about Voldemort is that, at the very least, you know from the get-go he's a sadistic, power-hungry evil wizard, and he doesn't try to pretend otherwise. Umbridge, meanwhile, has this outwardly sweet grandmotherly persona that serves as a thin mask for her true nature, and it only makes her all the more dreadful.
All that said, however, she is a terrific villain and a lot of fun to watch. I kind of hate to say it, but I don't think Order of the Phoenix would've been as good as it is without her.
Eventually some of the students, fed up with Umbridge's totalitarian reign over the school and her general incompetence as a teacher, meet at the Hog's Head Inn in Hogsmeade to do something about it. This is a great scene. We get a nice little character moment when Hermione hesitates before saying "Voldemort", instead of just "You Know Who" or "He Who Must Not Be Named". I also love when Ron calls Zacharias a "tosspot". That's such an awesome insult.
The Hog's Head meeting leads to the students forming their own private Defence Against the Dark Arts group, calling themselves Dumbledore's Army, all beneath Umbridge's nose. Another great part of the film. It really helps convey how, even in grim situations, there's still hope. The scenes of Dumbledore's Army continually evading detection are a joy to watch.
Umbridge's office has always disturbed me. The pink walls, the cutesy antique decorations, and especially the pictures of all the meowing kittens, creates this sickeningly sweet atmosphere. And this is coming from someone who's a cat lover! Granted, we know by this point in the film what kind of person Umbridge really is, but there's still something unsettling about that office.
Once more on the topic of Mrs Norris' eyes. In Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, her eyes were a unique, unnatural red. In Prisoner of Azkaban, they were a normal blue-grey. In Goblet of Fire, they're back to red. In Order of the Phoenix, they've switched again to blue-grey. I don't think we get a good look at her eyes in Half-Blood Prince, and she's absent from Deathly Hallows: Part 1, but they're blue-grey once more in Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
Ah, I love Fred and George. It's an immensely cathartic moment when they set off their fireworks, which turns into a dragon that chases Umbridge and destroys all the educational decrees. Pure awesomeness.
Good and Evil Collide
When the connection between Harry and the Dark Lord leads Harry to believe that Sirius is being held captive at the Ministry of Magic building, Harry races against time to try and save his godfather, leading to what is probably the best climax so far. A showdown with Umbridge and her Inquisitorial Squad, a fierce battle with the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries, and finally an epic wand duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort himself.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is fun, exciting, and thought-provoking. It successfully builds on the previous films, but it's also a fantastic movie in its own right.
© 2018 Ian Rideout