Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson, and Michael Gambon. Rated PG.
In a summer of bloated, self-important sequels, there's something moderately comforting about the calm and steady approach to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This is, after all, the fifth cinematic offering featuring the phenomenally popular boy wizard. Although there are still adequate doses of the usual wand-waving bombast, director David Yates does his best to be contemplative. What we have here is a relatively broomless, substantially less rollicking episode hampered by the fact that two more installments are on-deck. On the plus side, Phoenix makes darkly adept use of the classic Dickensian touches that are so much a part of the books.
Like any worthwhile serial, here there's a foreboding feeling that the best secrets take their own sweet time to unfold. And if Phoenix feels like it is pretty much all foreplay in service to some distant climax, the many devotees of the franchise will probably understand. If there's one thing fans of Harry Potter have learned over the years, it's how to pace themselves.
That said, this is clearly one of the weaker efforts in the series. Part of the problem is that the original novel doesn't offer a lot of startling new developments. The adolescent Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) still has a box full of reasons to indulge in some serious brooding while continuing his wizardry education at Hogwarts, the main one being the return of his archenemy, Lord Voldemort (an unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes in what amounts to a cameo appearance.)
Harry's frustration is compounded by the fact that nobody at school seems to believe his story that the evil Voldemort is back. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, who adds an elegant touch of gravitas) is giving his star pupil the cold shoulder, and some of Harry's fellow students are openly disdainful. Tensions rise when Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) joins the Hogwarts faculty as a hopelessly ineffectual instructor in defence against the dark arts. When developments begin to support Harry's view on things, students urge him to start his own secret tutorial on how best to defend themselves against Voldemort's threat.
Even at a running time of two hours and 18 minutes, it's all pretty thin stuff. What do we get besides the usual familiar pleasures? Mostly Staunton, who takes advantage of her generous screen time by delivering a juicy performance as the primly sadistic Dolores. Of course–if this isn't enough for anybody but the true Potter fanatic–there's always next time.