Friday, February 14, 2014

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, movie review)

       So, my last review of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” wasn’t all that positive and for a while, I thought I was done with the Harry Potter series. Maybe I just didn’t like the new direction these films were going in, maybe I had two much fondness for the first three movies that I wouldn’t except change, either way, I had little expectations for the further films in the franchise. Then in 2007 came the release of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, and that movie surprised the hell out of me. Not only did it surpass my expectations and give me new found hope for the rest of the series, but it also stands as one of my three favorite entries in this franchise. The movie delivers everything that I thought was missing in the last film. The passing is great, the story is excellent, the action scenes are thrilling, the new characters are wonderful, the moral is deep and our main characters are more mature but in a way that doesn’t feel empty and mean spirited. 

       Unlike its predecessor, this movie is absolutely a story of good versus evil, but it’s not entirely about defeating a physical threat, instead it’s more about concurring the darkness within before defeating your enemy and that’s a conflict that thrills me more than any physical challenge a hero may encounter. After the events of “Goblet of Fire”, Harries greatest enemy Voldemort has returned and is secretly building an army of followers. Harry tries his best to warn everyone of the danger, but the ministry of magic and even his fellow classmates refuse to believe him. Everyone is so twisted and warped by fear, that even the magical minister deludes himself into believing that Harry Potter and his head master Dumbledore are conspiring against him. It’s a rather convincing and even haunting depiction of how a society can crumble when fear dominates one’s life. Enter a new villain by the name of Dolores Umbridge who takes advantage of the ministry’s fear in an effort to gain power, and ultimately takes over the whole school of Hogwarts. Now with the school under the tyranny of Umbridge, it’s up to Harry to regain his friends, battle the darkness that corrupts his soul, teach his fellow classmates everything he’s experienced over the years and lead them in a rebellion against their oppressors.  

        This is a premise that just gets everything right, there’s a story arch of a fallen hero trying to fit back into a community, we have the students forming their own club, they gather in a secret location to train themselves better than any teacher ever has and lots of adventures involving usurping teachers and evil wizards ensue along the way. I think this film especially nails that delicate balance between heated conflicts and warm feel good moments. There are a lot of scenes in which the characters are angry, bitter, going through hardships and dealing with some really dark material, but this time the arguments never come off as childishly immature, the same way I felt they did in the last film. Plus, there’s still so much joy and excitement that comes from seeing these characters build themselves, grow closer together as a family and the movies whole theme of unity is so stirring, without ever diving into cheesy territory. I love that our trio of hero’s are both maturing and breaking out of their common character traits. Ron is less of a joke, Herminie uses her physical strengths, as well as her brain and Harry really stands tall as the hero we want to cheer for.  It’s an especially nice treat to see Harry bond with other students outside of his usual trio. Not just one off girl friends but other individuals that he’s had the privilege of knowing at the school and that helps make this world feel all the more lively and real when even the secondary characters get a little more attention.  

      The newest addition to Harries group of friends is a young girl named Luna Lovegood who’s played beautifully by Evanna Lynch. I love this character, she has her own unique personality that separates her from the others, she can relate to Harry in this film because there both regarded as outcasts and she contributes to the group by acting as the moral compass. While Luna never becomes a member of Harries trio, she becomes a main stay from this point on and will remain one of Harries closest friends. Michael Gambon is back as Albus Dumbledore, and to my amazement, he’s actually doing a serviceable job in the role now. Gambon still isn’t quite as humble and warm as the first Dumbledore but he’s actually kind of a bad ass. No joke, this is a bad ass Dumbledore, he’s calm and collective but when he does something awesome, its hard core awesome. I’ll always remember that scene when Dumbledore is about to be taken away to prison, only to makes a quick escape by grabbing onto the tail of the Phoenix and disappearing in a large fiery eruption, Oh yes, Dumbledore certainly has style.     

      If I was to mention one big problem I had with this movie, it would be Harries discarded relationship with Cho Chang. This is the cute little Asian girl who was featured in the last movie, now she’s back and Harry finds himself getting much closer to her, like girl friend territory. I’ll be honest, I think these two make a really cute couple, they do have chemistry, they look great together and there’s a subtle bit of conflict in their relationship. It’s established that she was in a relationship with the student who died in the last film and while her feelings toured Harry are genuine, she can’t help but feel she’s betraying the first man she loved. On the opposite side of that coin, Harry was there when that other guy died and the last thing he wants is to make his death seem more empty, but he just can’t dyne how strong his feelings are toured her either. This is the kind of beautiful but conflicting relationship that I’d love to see explored further throughout the series, unfortunately, they have an off screen breakup. No joke, after several scenes establishing an interesting relationship between these two, they break up off screen, it’s not even made clear why they break up, they don’t talk to each other again and Cho Change just disappears from the series like she never existed. It’s just a week excuse for Harry to start a relationship with that one red head girl and honestly, this is one case in which I really wish the movie didn’t follow the book. Seriously, it’s good to make changes, keeping Cho as Harries girl friend would have been an excellent change that readers wouldn’t expect and it would be so much better then what they do in the next film.

     Thankfully, the real heart of this movie is Harries relationship with his godfather, Sirius Black. After getting little screen time in the previous films, Gary Oldman is finally given the chance to shine in this role. He’s strong and supportive but he’s also stubborn and a bit of risk taker and that makes the character all the more likable. He just has so much enthusiasm, joy for life, and moral values to convey to our hero. Now, spoiler alert for anyone not familiar with the story, because something happens at the end that I feel needs to be mentioned. During the climax, Sirius Black dies while fighting alongside Harry and I honestly think that this is the most effective and heart breaking death in the series. Unlike that student from the last film, this was a character that we knew very well and liked a lot. Plus, he was the only real family that Harry had left, so now it’s like he’s been orphaned all over again.  

     Not only are the hero’s great, the film also out does itself with the villains. Ralph Fiennes finally elevates his performance as Voldemort with actual scares and sheer sense of menace. Jason Isaacs gets one last chance to shine as Lucius Malfoy before his character gets shamefully demoted. Voldemorts evil followers called the death eaters make their mark on the series, even though they were seen briefly in the last film, they really stand out here as intimidating soldiers of darkness. Popular actress Helena Bonham Carter joins the cast as the sinister witch named Bellatrix Lestrange. Her part in this film is short but she becomes a main stay villain from this point on and quickly proves to be one of the deadlist foes that Harry has ever faced. Finally, the villain who steals the show with every scene she’s in is Dolores Umbridge. Actress Imelda Staunton delivers a deliciously wicked performance in the role and in many ways, I think she’s more interesting then the series main antagonist. This is a very unique villain because unlike Voldermort who gains power through force, Umbridge attacks through influence and a promise to make the world a better place. It’s a rare case in which Harry can’t just fight back and she’s just so despicably full of herself that it makes her a lot of fun to hate.

      The visual effects as usual are awesome to look at and the set pieces are all very detailed. One thing that does get a little excessive is the constant blue lighting. Seriously, just about every shot in this film has some kind of blue look to it, there’s blue lit rooms, blue lit storm clouds, blue lit forests, the entire climax takes place in this area that’s all blue, the poster of the movie is blue, heck, even the cover of the book is blue. Whenever I think of the “Order of the Phoenix”, I immediately think of the color blue. The action sequences in this film are some of the best to be featured in the whole series, this time we get really acrobatic wizard battles. The climax especially delivers a powerhouse, action packed spectacle, with lots of wand duels, lots of energy and a really active environment. It’s also a real treat to see so many characters involved, usually it’s just Harry and the trio but now other school friends and other wizards from the series all join in on this finally. The highlight is the final one on one dual between Voldermort and Dumbledore, the big showdown between the two mightiest wizards in the Harry Potter universe. I love that it’s not just a single collision of spells, it’s actually like a battle of the elements, Voldermort summons fire, Dumbledore summons water, there’s shadow energy, shattered glass and it’s just thrilling to watch.  

       When all the action is said and done, we then segue into my favorite part of the movie and personally, my favorite scene in the whole series. The moment when Harry gets possessed by Voldemort is arguably the darkest part of the film and may even disturb some people, but it’s also a very powerful scene as Harry conquers both his enemy and the darkness within himself all at once. The visuals are tense, the music is powerful, Harries final message to Voldemort is very effective and the whole scene just leaves me with chills every time. On a side note, when Voldemort inters Harries mind, we get a montage of clips from all the films and it’s kind of a rare treat to look back on the past films like this.  

      To some things up, “Order of the Phoenix” is easily my favorite of the later day Harry Potter films. The story stays consistently engaging, and the action scenes are thrilling without ever overshadowing any of the films substance. The level of enjoyment and dark elements are balanced out flawlessly, the characters are more mature, the third act is a powerhouse romp and everything comes together so nicely in the end. Sure there’s that one little problem I mentioned earlier but it’s so small and everything else is so good that it hardly matters. Someone looking for a more action packed plot and lots of over the top visual effects may be a little bored with a lot of this film, but for my money, the films exciting premise, and livelier themes are enough to make this one of the best.

                                          I give “Order of the Phoenix” 4 ½ stars out of 5.      

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