When I reviewed the first movie of the series, I started by proclaiming that the impact of the Harry Potter series was our generation’s Star Wars. But as well as the impact on culture, it also had a direct impact on Hollywood business practices. This was already true for the commitment to story telling over a number of years with the same cast, but it goes further with the introduction of David Yates as director of the franchise for Order of the Phoenix, and for the rest of its run.
Before then David Yates main credits were in television, with both the great series State of Play and TV movies Sex Traffic and Girl in the Cafe, all definitely better directed than average British television, but not what you would expect to helm a close-to-billion film series. But being a director for huge productions in T.V, a director from that area is used to not being the sole creative voice of a project. As a result, Yate’s direction of the series is stylistic enough that the films feel more dynamic than the Chris Columbus era, but not too stylistic that the movie overpowers the source material the way Alfonso Cuaron did on Azkaban . You could make the correlation between Producer David Heyman hiring David Yates for the rest of the Potter saga with Kevin Feige hiring Joss Whedon and the Russo Brothers for the Avengers movies. Without Harry Potter, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist the way we know it, and by extension Modern Hollywood.
So, enough about the money: how is the movie? Let’s get big complaints out of the way. Like other middle children films such as The Two Towers there’s lots of plot to get through in Order of the Phoenix, but nothing approaching finality. This is the longest book in the series, but is the shortest of the movies so far. So as before in Goblet of Fire, the condensing produces a much stronger propulsion in storytelling, but things are rushed and character’s we’ve grown to care about are given very little time to shine. Even new characters, such as Helena Bonham Carter cementing her place as a Goth icon with Bellatrix Lestrange, are barely given five minutes of screen time. On top of that, things like the archway between life and death appear in the movie with little explanation of what they actually are. This all becomes particularly crucial in what should be the films’ most emotional scene; the death of Sirius Black. Because of the rush to get to that point, the direction and storytelling really lessens the impact of Harry losing the closest thing he has to a father figure (though, as always, Gary Oldman is brilliant in the role).
There’s other issues with rushed character arcs too. As a film only invention, the treatment of the character of Cho is unnecessarily harsh and cruel considering we learn her betrayal was because of polyjuice potion. Not only does Harry not talk to her, she isn’t seen again for the entire series (EDIT: Correction. She is in a couple of scenes in Deathly Hallows Pt.1). And despite how good the effects are for the majority of the movie, Grawp design is particularly ineffective, and he only seems to exist in this version so that Umbridge can be disposed of later on.
Speaking of which, lets talk about what is greatest part of this movie, which is Imelda Staunton as the bureaucratic tyrant Dolores Umbridge. The love to hate her reaches almost pantomime levels, and I mean that as a complement. For a series which has the manifestation of ultimate evil as the main antagonist, I don’t think the series ever has a better executed villain. Part of that comes from how recognisable her villainy, exuding all the worst aspects of teaching, bureaucratic government and the paranoia of institutions. But most of that comes from Staunton’s performances, one of icy smiles and the sadism of a well cut dress. There are other great new inclusions, such as Evanna Lynch as the eccentric Luna Lovegood. Despite the odd fact such an important student character is not revealed until movie four, she makes an immediate and lasting impression.
The series has also moved to include more overt battle scenes, which is a mixed bag in terms of editing, but the fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort in this movie might be the best of the entire series, fighting with the elements and showing the true capabilities of each character’s magic. In the psychological battles, the best scenes are between Harry Potter and Snape, with Alan Rickman getting to show the vulnerability so crucial to the next movie, and the revelations of Harry’s dad James as bully blurs the good/evil lines in a way that helps to make Snape the most interesting character arc for the rest of the series. Oh, and the way Rickman says “obviously” when Umbridge taunts him is hilarious.
All the main cast continue to improve in this movie, including more prominence of Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, but its in Order of the Phoenix where Daniel Radcliffe noticeably steps up his game. This was the first Harry Potter movie he made after performing on stage in Equus, which might explain the increased maturity, but another part of that is the added responsibility of the character. Most of the time, events happen to Harry instead of him directly causing them, but with the organising of Dumbledore’s Army it’s actually him who takes up responsibility and acts accordingly, from the awkward to the authoritative, giving us a more layered performance as a result.
Despite rushed character moments and an unruly plot, JK Rowling’s tirade/detour on education giving us a great villain and some wonderful scenes; the scene where Fred and George blow up the exam room is among the series most exhilarating moments. It’s a nice moment to remember as we get to the next movie. The Harry Potter series moves even further towards darkness…