In commemoration of the upcoming sequel, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018), I’m going to review the rest of the Harry Potter series:
- THE SORCERER’S STONE (2001)
- THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002)
- THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
- THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005)
- THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009)
- THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 (2010)
- THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (2011)
- FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016)
First disclaimer: Before anyone freaks out, yes, I’ve seen all of the films before. When I was a kid. I haven’t revisited most of these films since they were released in theaters. I’m just taking a trip down memory lane and seeing how they hold up compared to when I first saw them and getting my opinions out there. Second disclaimer: No, I’ve not read the books. Okay, I’ve read the first three. I do not remember them. I am not planning to read these books, so please don’t freak out with sentences like, “Well, it’s better explained in the book!” I do not care. This is purely my opinions regarding the films.
Returning alumni: Daniel Radcliffe (SWISS ARMY MAN , VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN , and the upcoming PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE ), Rupert Grint (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Emma Watson (THE CIRCLE , and the upcoming LITTLE WOMEN ), Ralph Fiennes (LEGO BATMAN , KUBO , SPECTRE , and upcoming films HOLMES & WATSON  and ANTONY & CLEOPATRA ), and Gary Oldman (HUNTER KILLER , SPACE BETWEEN , CRIMINAL , KUNG FU PANDA 2 , and upcoming films THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW  and MARY )
Franchise newcomers: Evanna Lynch (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Imelda Staunton (FINDING YOUR FEET , MALEFICENT , and the upcoming MALEFICENT 2 ), Natalie Tena (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), and Helena Bonham Carter (OCEANS 8 , ALICE THROUGH THE GLASS , TERMINATOR SALVATION , and CORPSE BRIDE )
Director: David Yates (stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen)
Writer: Michael Goldenberg (GREEN LANTERN , and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL )
Composer: Nicholas Hooper (stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen)
Cinematographer: Slawomir Idziak (A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS )
Editor: Mark Day (KIN  and LEGEND OF TARZAN )
This is my honest opinion of: HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Despite the Wizarding World at large refusing to believe that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has enjoyed a mostly calm summer with the Dursleys, that is, until a pair of dementors attack him and his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling). Though Harry successfully fends them off and more or less saves Dudley’s life, the Ministry of Magic catches wind of Harry’s underage use of magic and quickly attempts to expel him from Hogwarts. However, it turns out that Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has called for a hearing with the Ministry and clear’s Harry’s name on the grounds of magic users having the right to defend themselves in life-threatening situations. But Harry’s troubles are far from over. Not only has the Ministry of Magic sent the ghastly and overly strict Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to overhaul the teaching curriculum of Hogwarts, and not only are a lot of people calling Harry a liar about Voldemort, but Harry begins to suffer from visions of Voldemort and other horrible things.
I might say that this is the second best Harry Potter film to date, but that’s not exactly saying much.
First issue, and I shouldn’t be constantly ragging on this, but I’m going to anyway… why is Harry still with the Dursleys? Harry has caused them nothing but agony since he arrived. They never wanted him, they complained to his face about how much of a burden he’s been, has caused property damage, and have caused relative harm to another member of the Dursley family… though truth be told, I think it was explained that Aunt Marge’s memory was erased of the incident. I didn’t say this in my GOBLET OF FIRE review, but I appreciated that Harry wasn’t living with the Dursleys anymore. He’s introduced with the Weasleys. From where I was sitting, that was indicative of him moving in with them. They seemed to like him well enough. But now he’s back with his aunt and uncle?!
Actually, the first few minutes of this movie are strange. The dementors attack out of nowhere and they’re unhooded. Why? They had hoods in AZKABAN, why not here? And why did they attack? I mean, I know Voldemort sent them after him, likely not knowing that Harry knows the Patronus, but… I don’t know, this seems uncharacteristically dirty for him. Voldemort, from his resurrection in GOBLET, was a showman and big on “manners.” He doesn’t seem the type to sic dementors to kill Harry when we know that he’d rather do it himself.
The script is also written pretty weird when Harry gets that notice that he’s been expelled from Hogwarts for using magic. First off, that was quick. That was likely less than an hour worth of reaction time. Second, why the hell is he expelled? Was the Ministry aware of why he used magic? I know eventually there’s a hearing to clear his name, but why wasn’t the hearing the default reaction. “Yo, you used magic in front of a muggle. Why’d you do that, bro?!” I feel like that was an immature and unprofessional knee-jerk reaction. Also, even if Harry did use magic in front of muggles, it’s not like the Dursleys don’t know about magic. They full well do. So why did it matter? Furthermore, it’s not even the first time he’s used magic around muggles. SORCERER’S STONE, the glass at the zoo that freed the snake. No, he wasn’t a student Hogwarts then, but still. In CHAMBER, he and Ron used a flying car and were “seen by no less than seven muggles,” and they got detention. In AZKABAN, Harry inflated his aunt and even that Ministry of Magic guy brushed it off like it was no big deal. So where’s the consistency with the consequences of magic being used outside of Hogwarts? And really, when the Order of the Phoenix came around to take Harry to the Black estate, they were flying around on their brooms in the open. Not even flying in the clouds to be discreet. How do the lot of them not get in trouble?! And how about the magical expanding building? That expansion was not subtle. It’s loud, and very visible. Seriously, the Wizarding World makes zero sense sometimes. More than “sometimes,” but best not kick the fandom-hornet’s nest.
Speaking of not kicking the hornet’s nest, let’s kick the hornet’s nest! Why is this story titled, “The Order of the Phoenix”? This movie barely features them. I sort of have a similar complaint with GOBLET OF FIRE, in that the goblet is hardly the central object worthy of note in the story. Here, the Order of the Phoenix is hardly prominent. Hell, all we really know about it is what Hermione (Emma Watson) says: It’s a secret order. A secret order for what? Fighting the dark forces? Why is that a secret? Does the Wizarding World not have an official military, or something? And if the Order is a secret… how are they a secret?! They fought against Voldemort’s forces! That doesn’t sound like you can do something like that and expect to stay secret. Maybe the identities of those within the Order are secret, but not the Order itself. Moving on, this movie does realize that it mostly features Harry and the other students learning magic in secret, yes? Harry and the lot of them aren’t part of the Order itself. They weren’t officially inducted. Harry just proclaimed that he wanted to be involved and Sirius (Gary Oldman) supported the notion. They don’t symbolically proclaim themselves part of the Order when they’re training or heading off to the Ministry. Their official name is Dumbledore’s Army, which contributes much more to the story than the Order does. So… why is this entire story named the Order. Yes, yes, we learn of everyone’s backstory and their families, but that’s hardly enough to warrant the movie’s title.
I highly disagree with the idea that the Ministry simply disavows the return of Voldemort out of fear. You go to an airport and scream “bomb,” no TSA officer is going to say, “eh, it’s probably a joke.” No, they swarm, investigate, and verify the threat. The Ministry feels like it’s covering their ears going “la la la la!” which for a story that’s supposed to be more mature in it’s fifth outing is among one of the more childish aspects of the entire franchise. This feeds into the question mark of how and why Defense Against the Dark Arts has turned into theoretical stuff as opposed to practice. Even in practice and sparring, it’s still theoretical. So long as you don’t teach the forbidden curses, of course.
As much as I like Umbridge as a character, I haven’t the slightest idea how she’s able to get away with half the crap she did. Harry’s reasons for not reporting her torture methods are thin. So, so dumb. And it’s later confirmed that the Ministry likely never knew about her extreme methods of punishment, so why in blazes didn’t Harry at least try to talk to someone about it. Dumbledore’s been avoiding him, so… McGonagall? I don’t know, trying to logic your way out of even more conflict is a recipe for getting into more conflict. Why is the fireplace that Sirius uses to talk to Harry different in this movie from GOBLET? Before, the wood and ember contorted to look like Sirius’ face, whereas this one basically projects his image into the flames itself. Consistency? What’s that?
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to read>>> [ I absolutely hate how this movie treats Sirius’ death. It’s so unceremonious and completely without emotional weight. Why? Because we haven’t had enough time to get to know Sirius as a character, or let the relationship between him and Harry to evolve. These movies have had three outings to give the audience an emotional connection to him and it doesn’t really do a great job by the end of it. We know some details, that he was the “black” sheep of the family (pun intended) and was really good friends with Harry’s dad, but we already knew that from AZKABAN. We know he was basically disowned by his family when he ran away and didn’t buy into the- what did he say? – “pureblood mania”? ] [ The point is, look at his accumulated time in the franchise. He’s held off until toward the end of AZKABAN for that fateful confrontation with Harry. Makes sense, with a few more moments thrown in. Maybe, what, twenty minutes worth of screen time? GOBLET… less than five minutes? This movie… also maybe only twenty minutes of screen time. At best, thirty? So between these movies, each more than two hours long, a grand total of six-plus hours, and Sirius, Harry’s godfather, who is supposed to be the dead of Harry’s final remaining family, gets a grand total of ONE HOUR worth of screen time? Actually, if you go to IMDb’s “Screen Time Breakdown” for the franchise, it shows that Sirius has LESS than THIRTY minutes worth of screen time in all three movies that he’s featured in! How the hell did these movies expect the audience to develop an connection to this character with that much time given to him?! To make matters worse, he just… dies. Okay, he’s killed by Bellatrix, but it happens so suddenly. Wouldn’t it have been more awesome to see him square off with Voldemort while defending Harry instead of Dumbledore, or alongside Dumbledore and only getting killed off after an epic duel? Wasted potential. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
But I can’t rail on this movie forever. Time to mention the positive qualities.
I give the movie credit that this is also one of now two installments where Harry shows the most character. It’s no AZKABAN, but it’s something. Among my favorite scenes are when he’s training the other students in the hidden room. He’s blatantly honest about how lucky he’s been every year against the evils that he’s defeated. But once the lessons start, there’s actually a infectious passion that he seems to have with teaching. He’s smiling, supportive, and when someone makes a mistake, he attempts to correct form. As far as Harry’s character is concerned, this is interesting and quite wonderful to see. I wish it was more consistent throughout the story, but it’s better than nothing.
While I will always be a fairly big critic of how the writers for these movies don’t make the main characters that interesting, whether or not these issues are a result of Rowling’s writing, I couldn’t say, I will say that the supporting characters are far more interesting. We learn about Neville (Matthew Lewis) and how his parents were tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) for information, but gave her nothing, but more powerfully, he says that he’s quite proud to be their son. This is a nice, heartfelt touch from one of the more accident prone characters of the franchise that few would bat an eyelash at. While this moment stands out on its own in its own right, I inadvertently did a little research on Neville online and the book goes a bit further into his backstory. Basically, his parents were cursed with a spell that didn’t kill them, but they don’t recognize Neville at all, giving him probably one of the most tragic backstories of all the characters. And then there’s arguably my favorite support characters, Luna Lovegood, played by Evanna Lynch. This girl tickles the crap out of me. She’s reminds me of a pothead on hallucinogenics, completely blissed out like a flopped bunny, but says the most bizarre things. I also want to say that her mother’s death is at least part of the reason for the way she is, so I empathized with her.
I know I complained about the expanding building where the Black’s used to live, but the visual eye-candy was pretty neat. I hate Umbridge! Er… in the best way possible. Staunton delivers what I can only imagine is her greatest performance ever. She’s just so much fun, all happy and peppy, but severely strict and borderline homicidal, it’s such a treat to see her on screen. That quilt of hers that carves whatever the writer writes into his or her hand? That was creatively painful. I also felt really bad for Trelawney (Emma Thompson). She was so innocent, so vulnerable, so bloody adorable when she was getting thrown out by Umbridge. Why am I so in love with Emma Thompson?!
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ Let’s not forget about the brilliant casting of Carter as Bellatrix. Somehow, that woman was born to play psychotic weirdos and fits perfectly in the Wizarding World. I certainly wish her character was better developed, as she does ultimately kill Sirius and would make more sense if Voldemort killed him, but I’ll take the visual. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Overall, out of the current films that I’ve seen so far, I suppose this is technically the second best of the five movies (or at least, my second favorite), but that’s not really saying much considering how much AZKABAN brought to the table. This movie still suffers from so much stupidity that I would swear the maturity level is dying down, not escalating, the movie creates a ton of plot holes just in the first few minutes, and there are some seriously frustrating choices made with the characters that ruins their impact on the story. With that said, there’s enough positive stuff to make this a more enjoyable experience. I enjoy how Harry is written, as well as Neville and Luna, some great casting for the newcomers, and some elements of the plot are worth investing in. This is far from a perfect flick, or the best of the franchise, but it does have merit that deserves recognition.
My honest rating for HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: 3/5