4/15/10

R108 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

(2007, Fantasy, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

For the third consecutive year, the new teacher turns out to be evil.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:


Harry Potter just gets grimmer and grimmer, doesn’t it?

Summary:

Row of Faces Poster: Junior Wizard Edition.This is movie number five in the series, so here’s the obligatory link to the prior film. Also: here, here and here.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix starts off with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his thuggish cousin Dudley getting attacked by Dementors (soul-sucking ghosts) in a playground. Always handy with a spell, Harry drives them off. While a traumatized Dudley gets dragged to the hospital, the eponymous Order of the Phoenix arrives to escort Harry to OotP headquarters.

Said Order consists of all of Harry’s adult friends from previous films: the Weasleys (Mark Williams and Julie Walters), Mad-Eye (Brendan Gleeson), Lupin (David Thewlis), etc. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has gathered these trustworthy folks to fight against the rise of the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), freshly resurrected at the end of the last movie. Also included: Harry’s beloved Godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who’s still wanted for crimes he did not commit and must hide at headquarters. Harry learns that the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) and his lackey Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) refuse to admit that Voldemort has returned, and will do anything to stop Harry and Dumbledore from convincing the wizarding public otherwise.

Their latest smear attempt has to do with the spell Harry cast to drive away the Dementors. Underage magic is illegal outside school grounds, so they hold a hearing to expel him from Hogwarts. Dumbledore appears to point out that magic is allowed in life-threatening situations, and produces a witness to the attack. Fudge et al. have no choice but to drop the charges.

Harry returns to school, only to discover that Umbridge is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, specially empowered by Fudge to keep Dumbledore from spreading the word about Voldemort’s return. Umbridge makes new rules daily, forbidding students from learning any self-defense, or from gathering together in groups. Frustrated, Harry’s friends Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) convince Harry to start a clandestine club called Dumbledore’s Army, which trains defensive spells in secret. They are betrayed and discovered. Despite the fact that he had nothing to do with it, Dumbledore claims responsibility to keep them out of trouble. He disappears before Fudge can arrest him. Umbridge takes over the school, instituting even more draconian measures to keep the students in line. Finally some of the students rebel, throwing the school into chaos with a barrage of magical fireworks.

Deathy the Hell Pony.In the midst of this Harry has been having disturbing dreams which provide insights into the returned Voldemort’s mind. In an earlier dream, Harry saw Mr. Weasley get attacked by Voldemort’s pet snake, and sent help in time to save him. Now Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured in the Ministry of Magic. Harry and his friends trick Umbridge into getting captured by the local centaurs and rush to the rescue.

The end up in the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries, a warehouse full of prophecies recorded in little crystal balls. Sirius isn’t there, but a gang of Deatheaters (Voldemort’s henchmen) are, including main henchman Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and the insane Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter). Malfoy explains that Voldemort has figured out the connection between his mind and Harry’s and used it to show him a vision of something that wasn’t really happening. They need Harry to retrieve a prophecy for them. Only he can retrieve it, because it’s about him.

Harry already has the prophecy in question. (It says that either he will kill Voldemort or the other way around). He and his friends keep the Deatheaters at bay for a while, but end up trapped. The Order of the Phoenix arrives just in time. They fight off the Deatheaters, destroying the prophecy in the process. In the midst of the fighting, Bellatrix kills Sirius. Angry, Harry chases her into the hall and corners her.

Voldemort arrives to taunt Harry and defeat him in battle. Dumbledore shows up shortly thereafter to rescue Harry and defeat Voldemort in battle. Voldemort uses his psychic connection with Harry to posses him. Harry struggles and ejects the dark wizard just in time for Fudge and the Ministry to arrive and see that Voldemort really is back after all.

Harry and Dumbledore are vindicated in the press. Harry mourns Sirius and gets ready to go home for the summer.

Thoughts:

Ironically, Fuzzy Pink Cat Lady is one of the scariest villains in the series.Order of the Phoenix is the longest and darkest of the books thus far. Amazingly, the movie version is both shorter than Goblet of Fire (its immediate predecessor) and the most clearly plotted of the films since Sorcerer’s Stone. Much of this has to do with the way the story is told. Example: Harry is informed that he is being expelled for using magic to drive away the Dementors. He pounds his fists against the wall; a picture of his parents falls and cracks. It’s a horrible cliché, to be sure, but it quickly and unambiguously communicates his reaction. The whole movie is like this—broad, clear, simple strokes one after the other. Sure, some clever dialog or a demonstration of how events affect his life in subtle ways would be more satisfying, but there’s way too much story to get through to do that for everything. Simply put, Order of the Phoenix speaks cinematic shorthand better than any of its predecessors. This is a good thing; it’s the only language it has time to speak.

The movie’s relative competence dims the humor a bit, but not by much. Rowlings’s wizard world is ridiculous beyond belief, inviting mockery no matter how well you present it. A few favorite comments: When Harry flashes back to the death of a friend in a previous film (played by vampire heartthrob Robert Pattinson), Bill says, “Dudley’s right, I really should stop dreaming about—sigh—Cedric.” When we learn of the Fudge’s treachery, Kevin says, “So Fudge has been packing the paper full of lies?” When Helena Bonham Carter emerges from wizard prison, Mike says, “This is where Tim Burton keeps her between movies.” A very funny running gag about racist nursery rhyme “Taffy Was a Welshman” occupies much of the film’s beginning. It’s not the best of the Harry Potter commentaries, but everything they've done with the series thus far has turned out well, and this entry is no exception.