Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

When we last left Harry at the end of the Goblet of Fire, he’d just witnessed Voldemort resurrecting himself. At the beginning of The Order of the Phoenix, nobody believes Harry. The Ministry of Magic is doing its best to discredit him, even to the point of prosecuting him for unauthorized use of magic for saving himself and his cousin Dudley from dementors. Fortunately, Dumbledore gets Harry out of that situation.

There’s some good news for Harry too. He’s removed from his unpleasant domestic situation with the Dursley’s when he’s whisked away by an organization called the Order of the Phoenix. This is a cabal of witches and wizards which was formed to fight Vodemort’s rise fourteen years ago. It’s membership includes almost every ally Harry’s ever made: Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Professor Lupin, Mad Eye Moody and most importantly, Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. Their headquarters are in Sirius’ family estate in London. Ron and Hermione are there too, so it should have been a great time for Harry. Alas, the gathering shadow of Voldemort ruins it.

The ministry is determined to deny the truth of Voldemort’s return. So much so that they force Dumbledore to hire Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. She’s there to teach a new Ministry approved curriculum. It’s a textbook based approach, guaranteed to be safe and completely useless. She’s also there to keep an eye on Dumbledore.

Harrywho is almost on the verge of panic because of the urgency of the situation is drafted into starting his own Defense class, where he teaches the other students all the spells he’s learned in order to defend himself in the last four years. It turns out that he’s a very good teacher, obviously passionate, and sympathetic to the failings and fears of his students. He gets results.

This is the darkest and best Harry Potter movie since Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s no wonder that they’ve asked the new director, Peter Yates back. He’s done a masterful job on a big book with a meandering plot that must have presented many challenges. The screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg, deserves credit too, as does Rowling herself, for letting them make painful cuts to her story only objecting when she saw that they wanted to cut a character who plays a major role in the last book. We don’t know who.

All the elements of filmmaking have come together again to make this a wonderful movie. The acting is fine. The three leads stand out. Daniel Radcliffe is tapping into Harry’s rage and alienation nicely. Emily Watson and Rupert Grint aren’t given a lot to do but you can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. The same goes for Alan Rickman as Snape. The supporting cast, which seems to include every actor in England is perfect. Imelda Staunton plays Umbridge with oily glee. You can see her enthusiasm for using an iron fist encased in a pink velvet glove. It’s masterful.

Now I warn you The Half Blood Prince, which is the next novel to be filmed is, while shorter, much more meandering than The Order of the Phoenix. I can only imagine the difficulties that the director and screenwriter will face.

And I can’t wait.

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