It is difficult for me to generate any real excitement when it comes to the Harry Potter film franchise. Now entering its fifth installment – as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I feel we have seen and done pretty much all there is to do at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Don’t get me wrong, my visits prior to this latest trip have been involving and wonderfully eye-opening but as Order of the Phoenix started I knew that I wouldn’t be going out of my way to visit again anytime soon.
As a film series Harry Potter may give off the appearance that it has grown up – Harry, Hermione and Ron are barely recognizable as maturing adults and the series has lost the light and playful nature it began with – but the simple truth is, it hasn’t. This becomes painfully obvious when the same dumbstruck appreciation for magic – that we witnessed on the faces of the young wizard wannabes in Philosopher’s Stone – is still evident on their faces today.
Instead of getting stuck into the meat of things now (Voldemort) and just getting things done we are treated in the same manner as we were in the first film. Harry Potter’s world of magic is one that has never been allowed to settle and establish itself firmly (becoming commonplace if you will), with its characters forever being wowed when I as a viewer have seen it all before. Luke Skywalker would never have gotten anything done if he had sat and gawked at every strange creature that came his way, and he only had three films to save the galaxy! I understand that it’s magic and that it’s meant to be enticing but, having grown up alongside Harry for the past six years, the magic/fantasy elements have become a hindrance – stunting the development of the main storyline.
With Harry Potter’s claims that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned being downplayed by the Ministry of Magic, he finds himself in the difficult position of being ostracised. Hemmed in by the Ministry’s ignorance, the local gossip rag’s propaganda about him (which has influenced the opinions of his school mates) and the very real reappearance of the one who shall not be named it appears Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has nowhere and no one to run to. With the return of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), however, Potter is introduced to the Order of the Phoenix – an organisation created fourteen years ago to combat Voldemort – and one that might provide him with the inspiration and courage to take action.
My concerns with the previous Harry Potter films were that they simply repeated a structural formula: once again, the same has happened here. Order of the Phoenix sees Harry Potter undergo a trauma (possible expulsion from Hogwarts), returning to Hogwarts (with strange events taking place at the school) and then (right at the end) a showdown with the main villain of the series, Voldermort. Rinse and repeat.
Instead of being treated to more of Lord Voldemort (whom I now secretly hope will kill Harry) straight out of the gates, Order of the Phoenix subjects the audience to a 100 minutes of training, teen troubles and angsty Potter loneliness that is neither too angsty nor believable. The main narrative focus of this film, the Ministry of Magic’s unwillingness to believe that Voldemort has returned, provides some great viewing and Imelda Staunton – as a result – steals the show but it also feels like a stalling point for the series. Was this fifth step really necessary? There is training, which is important but the kids have had four films to do that and Harry should have no excuses by now.
Unfortunately, Harry still doesn’t (to use a terrible American analogy) step up to the plate. He kind of takes initiative this time round but when the whole school is being tortured by the Ministry of Magic, and with an army of trained wizards at his disposal, he doesn’t take any action. Why Harry?!
As Dolores Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Staunton ‘wows’ with her kindness through cruelty approach to discipline. In a role that can best be described as a sadistic version of Mrs. Doubtfire, she flips the world of Hogwarts on its head and installs a police state within the school grounds. Providing the perfect opportunity for us to witness a rebellious Potter and to shake things up, Staunton becomes the nemesis I have been longing for Harry to go up against but sadly … this never happens.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a brilliantly crafted film (like the films before it) and from a visual effects standpoint can’t be faulted, this is one area the series improves upon with each new iteration. The repetitive approach, however, to character development and the main arc of the series has begun to show Harry up as a coward and a man/boy/wizard of little action. Hopefully, he grows a pair before his next fray with Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.