So, a very late hello and my apologies for the lack of posts recently. I could make excuses but honestly it’s actually a lot to do with this particular review. I’ve never struggled with a review as badly as I have with this one. I am, of course, continuing with my Harry Potter re-watch review cycle and I’ve hit the fifth film. It’s time to talk about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
New director David Yates and new screenwriter Michael Goldenburg bring Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Order of the Phoenix follows Harry as he deals with a wizarding world that believes him to be mad after Voldemort’s return. Even worse, the safe haven that was Hogwarts is subject to the fear-filled meddling of the Ministry of Magic, which refuses to believe that the Dark Lord has returned, and a new professor is actively stopping the students from learning defensive magic. With teenage romances, a forbidden club to lead, and frightening visions of Voldemort’s actions, Harry struggles to save the day.
When I first started this re-watch cycle, I really looked forward to watching Order of the Phoenix. If I’d had to choose a favourite among the eight films, it had always been between it and Goblet of Fire. Then I started watching. It has taken me almost three weeks to watch Order of the Phoenix and that wasn’t for lack of trying. I’ve started it at least four times but, until this last attempt, never got further than the first hour. It was too painful. I’m too aware of the failings. It seems that, now that I’m paying attention, I can see that Order of the Phoenix is tainted by faults that just seem to get worse as the films go on.
I had rather hoped that, with a different screenwriter from the other seven films, that Order of the Phoenix might not have the same annoying Harry/Hermione shipping elements that appear in the other films. Instead it seems to have gotten worse with this film. Now we all know Emma Watson is brilliant but that doesn’t excuse the amount of lines she gets given that should belong to Rupert Grint’s Ron. As time goes on, he gets shunted further and further into the background, only really speaking for comedic effect and it’s just so much worse in this film. I can’t think of more than a handful of moments (or any, for that matter) where Ron’s lines actually add to the development of the script. Admittedly, there are also several moments that further the Ron/Hermione ship (like Ron trying to rescue her from Grawp) but it just comes off as more comedy. There’s too much emphasis on Harry and Hermione’s relationship and so Ron’s affections just seem amusingly hopeless.
Added to this, Hermione now also grabs lines from other characters in Order of the Phoenix – most notably Ginny Weasley. For example, Hermione introduces Luna Lovegood. She’s a Ravenclaw girl in the year below that is supposed to be friends with Ginny and that Hermione has no real reason to have met before. Why was Hermione given this scene when it would have been so easy to have Ginny in there too? Moments like this are a big problem because this is the film where Ginny should start being seen as an individual, a potential friendship, and, most importantly, a viable future love interest. SPOILERS to anyone who hasn’t seen/read further along in the series (and has lived under a rock over the past decade or so), but Ginny Weasley is the girl who ends up with Harry. Not Hermione. Hermione gets with Ron. The book shows Ginny stepping out, being her own person, gaining Harry’s interest as a friend. The film shows… Nothing. Ginny is a step above background character at best, good at spells but otherwise unspectacular. Luna has more characterisation than she does.
Another problem which has been featured before, but that I had hoped would be different with a new director, was the acting. The older actors are, as always, pretty faultless, which I would put down to their experience. The younger ones, particularly Daniel Radcliffe, are more problematic and I don’t know why. They were great in Goblet of Fire – why did it go bad again? And it’s not even the same problem of Prisoner of Azkaban where there was painful over-acting. Harry’s uncomfortable soliloquies do pop their heads up at some moments, this time through writing letters, but thankfully not to the same extent. No, the problem is under-acting, especially at the beginning of the film. Harry is supposed to be filled with rage through so much of this film and he’s just… not. In the scene where Harry first goes to Grimauld Place is supposed to show Harry filled with uncontrollable rage. He’s supposed to be shouting , screaming, which is why it’s funny when the twins appear and comment on his dulcet tones. The joke doesn’t really work when Harry is speaking pretty quietly and calmly. Things do improve as the film goes on (apparently I needed to get past that hour marker) but it just frustrates me to see things go backwards when we’ve seen that DanRad can be brilliant.
There’s also an issue with subtlety in Order of the Phoenix. I mean, everything they include probably needs to be there and tends to be lifted from the book, but it often feels jammed in or like the writing is stating the obvious. Lots of telling over showing, and we all know how much I hate that. So many of Harry’s conversations with Sirius feel out of place, slotted in because they need to happen rather than where they would be natural. And feel good, motivational speech at the end of the film. Nice but did the audience really need to be told that? Why are we being treated like we’re dumb?
Now I’ve had a few rants, mostly along the same lines, so lets move on to some of the positives of Order of the Phoenix. The casting, as always, is brilliant. New additions include Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, and Evana Lynch as Luna Lovegood. All of them are spectacular. They pretty much perfectly embody their characters as I imagined them. Imelda Staunton especially – I lived for her scenes with Maggie Smith. Could I get a film that’s just the two of them? They are just too perfect as their characters. Actually, all the teachers and Umbridge are fabulous. The film is theirs – it would be much improved if we just watched them deal with one another for the entire first hour.
The special effects are excellent in Order of the Phoenix. They’ve really perfected the aesthetic of the spells by this point and the battle of the Department of Mysteries is just utterly beautiful. I can even forgive them for changing the way that a certain character dies because of how it looks. I also really like the changes to how they showed a Floo call. It looks so much more like the image in my head. The sweeping shots as well, particularly the diving through things (windows, walls, newspaper headlines…), just help make Order of the Phoenix really interesting visually.
Before I finish, I’ve got some more little niggles with Order of the Phoenix that don’t quite send me into a pool of sadness like some of the other problems but do frustrate me a little. !. The scene where Harry is supposed to be carrying Dudley home – what person watched that scene and went “Looks like Harry’s in a headlock. It’s brilliant!”? Both actors look like they’re trying but they aren’t working with one another at all. 2. Levicorpus being taught in Dumbledore’s Army. Just why? That spell isn’t supposed to be spoken or known about until later because it relates to the Half-Blood Prince. 3. Harry seeing Snape’s memories. The key part is missing. Where is Lily?
Overall, I’m rather disappointed with Order of the Phoenix. I thought it was one of the best of the eight and, if I was watching it without my brain on, it would be. It’s beautiful, Harry has some great one liners, some of the actors do brilliantly… But it upsets me if I watch it closely. There are too many changes from the source material that I can’t work out the reason for. Too many characters are pushed into the background that should be coming forward in this film and these will cause problems for the later films.