Five down, two to go. And as we near the end of the saga, we’re also leaving adolescence behind. Harry and his friends are now young adults — in a couple of scenes, you can see some stubble on his chin, and even Ron and Neville are less pratty than usual. And Quidditch? Nope, doesn’t even get a mention; there’s no time for playing around any more.
Two newbies to the Potter series (I hate the word franchise) — director Yates and screenwriter Goldenberg — skillfully steer the film into much older, darker territory. And necessarily so. Dark times have fallen upon the wizarding world with the return of the evil Lord Voldemort (Feines). Unfortunately, thanks to the Ministy of Magic, nobody believes Harry (Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Gambon) when they try to warn everyone of the danger they face. Back at Hogwarts, the Ministry has sent in new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge (Staunton) — pink of suit but black of heart, she certainly has it in for Harry. With the backing of the Ministry, she brings in a whole swag of new rules and regulations, eventually ousting Dumbledore (who JK Rowling recently outed as gay) as head of the school — there are some definite overtones of fascism here, folks. She bans the students from gathering in groups, and as she’s stopped teaching anything useful in her Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, it’s up to Harry — easily the most experienced of the bunch at fighting evil forces — to make sure his friends are armed with the charms and skills they’ll need for the battles we all know are coming. Dumbledore’s Army, they call themselves. And come the film’s final act — a showdown with Voldemort and his Death Eaters in the bowels of the Ministry — they’ll need all their skills, and then some.
Order of The Phoenix is the biggest of Rowling's books to date, which makes this film the most condensed, but it is all the more effective for it. Yates and Goldenberg have done a commendable job of knocking Rowling’s massive tome down to size. The danger is more palpable this time, a sense of looming menace in almost every scene, and the actors — particularly the main trio of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint — pull it off with aplomb. All three really have grown as actors since they first hit the screen in The Philosopher’s Stone — we’re even reminded of what a cute little tyke Radcliffe was in a flashback. Now he’s all righteous anger as he struggles to come to grips with his destiny, which is so entwined with that of the Dark Lord. Although we mustn't forget that there are some lighter moments, and Harry even gets to have his first kiss. But hands down, this film belongs to Staunton. She perfectly brings to life the Dolores Umbridge we so loved to hate from the book — all sweet, smarmy front but sheer cold, calculating, bureaucratic bitch beneath. It’s a shame she won’t be around for Half-Blood Prince, which — thankfully — Yates has already started work on. Let’s hope the rumours are true and he also gets the nod to bring his magic touch to the final instalment, The Deathly Hallows.
EXTRAS *** Deleted scenes; Trailing Tonks, a set tour hosted by the lovely Natalia Tena (who plays Nymphadora Tonks); Harry Potter: The Magic of Editing, where director Yates and editor Mark Day give lessons on how to edit a film (and the viewer can also try their hand at editing a scene); The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter, a 45 minute documentary that sums up the first five films in the series; DVD-Rom content, consisting mainly of trailers for merchandise, computer games, web links and a Harry Potter timeline. There's no director's commentary, which would have been rather nice.