Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

**1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It feels that J K Rowling’s ability to hold the Potterage saga together in The Order Of The Phoenix relies ever more on padding. Either that or scriptwriter Michael Goldenberg has concentrated on the least interesting aspects of the long and winding novel.

Ron (Rupert Grint) grins copiously and hangs about on the periphery of the action. Hermione (Emma Watson) does little except be there with the right answers when/if required and tick off an inquisitive boy giant with learning difficulties in the woods while refusing to comply to her job description of swot tottie. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has been pumping iron and is beginning to look prematurely like a young adult although in the role of schoolboy is saved by his distinctly uncool glasses.

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It starts with Harry being expelled from Hogwarts for using magic in front of a Muggle, in this case his vile, obese cousin (Harry Melling) who, with Harry, is under attack from skeletal flying dragony things. With the help of Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson), the swivel eyed teacher, and others, the expulsion is ignored and the first red herring swims effortlessly away.

The larger herring concerns school politics. New teacher Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), with the support of the Council of Wizards, or whatever they call the bureaucratic body that supervises magic's counter culture, systematically takes over Hogwarts with her strict, by-the-book policies, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, without the gas ovens, but with a wall full of rules, restricting every foreseeable personal freedom.

As Harry and his elite group of pals arrange secret spell training sessions for the inevitable showdown with Umbridge, the real threat lurks in the shadows. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, looking like the English patient risen from his bed) is back, organizing an army to overpower Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) moral authority and finally dispatch the irritating Potter boy who survived an earlier confrontation after his parents had been slaughtered.

Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Harry’s godfather and an escapee from the infamous Azkaban prison, appears at odd moments to offer support and his deranged cousin Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) makes a brief, deadly appearance, as if from the pits of Hades. Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), the lovable, hairy gamekeeper, is on holiday for the first half and returns briefly in the second to introduce his relative, the boy giant, who takes a fancy to Hermione.

If Voldemort’s resurrection represents the ultimate terror it loses its impact by failing to take advantage of surprise. There are three, or four, incidents when he could have zapped Harry and ended the contest with a flourish. Mindful of two more films to follow, he slips away in a swirl of smoke.

The Order Of The Phoenix wastes too much time with Umbridge’s school domination and how it affects Harry & Co – not a huge amount, it must be said – to the detriment of the real story, the battle between good and evil. There comes a point with magic when anything goes, which means open season for the Special Effects Dept and incomprehension for ordinary Muggles in the audience.

Dreams are important here, dreams and premonition, which encourage stream of unconsciousness visuals that blend into a mulch of imagery. What is lacking is focus and straightforward storylines that don’t require knowledge of the book to make head and tail of them.

Radcliffe is the star of this episode and his acting improves as Harry’s grasp of the situation loosens. Staunton’s comedic talents rub off on the reactionary, control-freaked Umbridge, weakening her authority. Although the action is fierce when it arrives and the concept of mind control fearful to the extreme, there is not one moment when the hairs on the back of your neck shiver in an icy breath.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2007
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Harry Potter and friends find themselves in trouble as a mysterious stranger seizes power at Hogwarts.
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