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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

dir: David Yates
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Betterer and betterer…

Order of the Phoenix is probably the best of the Harry Potter films thus far, but that seems kind of redundant to point out. The story itself, of a young wizard, his friends and allies, and the evil arrayed against them, and the author herself have been improving over time. The story is getting more complicated, deeper and richer, and, as such, it is getting harder and harder for me to maintain my disdain for the books and the people who wank on about them all the time.

As with the more recent flicks, they just go straight into it, with no shilly-shallying about. There’s plenty of references to happenings and characters from the previous films/books, but not in the sense of summarising the whole premise for the clueless coming in. It’s assumed that if your bum’s on the theatre seat, you know everything that’s transpired over the course of the story, or at least have some idea.

The catastrophic events from the last flick resonate loudly even with the passage of time. The murder of Cedric and the return of He Who Shall Not Be Named Too Often (Ralph Fiennes) signal the beginning of the gathering storm that will be the war between the Light and the Dark. But, since this is the early courtship stages, as both sides build and marshal their forces, the tension is agonising.

Few people apart from the obvious ones actually believe Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) description of events occurring at the end of Goblet of Fire, and even fewer believe his claim of the return of Mouldy Wart, sorry, I mean Voldemort. The Daily Prophet, the local tabloid newspaper that is clearly a part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Empire, maligns, slanders and otherwise impugns the good names of Harry, his godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and old man Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, is not only a useless prick, but someone who actively works against the good guys because he cannot accept that the gathering dark is gathering, or that Voldemort could have returned.

The flick begins with Harry and his semi-retarded bovver boy cousin Dudley being attacked by Dementors. When Harry repulses their attack with the Petronus charm, he is brought up on charges of using magic in the presence of muggles (mundane humans) and dragged before the Ministry. Right from the start we see that Harry is still deeply disturbed over the events of last year. He feels isolated, and afraid, and it doesn’t help that a lot of people believe the Daily Prophet’s slanderous lies about him and think him mad/delusional. The constant nightmares don’t help either, which surprises me. Nightmares tend to do me a world of good.

That feeling of isolation persists for much of the story, and is coupled with Harry’s increasing confusion over some kind of link he shares with the Noseless One. It doesn’t help Harry to be threatened with expulsion, or being persistently ignored and avoided by Dumbledore, the one old guy he thought he could trust. It especially doesn’t help when the other Hogwarts students treating him like he is covered in cooties.

In a move which I think indicates how frustrated J.K Rowling herself is with the tabloid press of our world, the machinations and impact of the skewed lies and propaganda in the Daily Prophet turns even more people against Harry. A goofy Irish student even says, specifically, that Harry must be mad and a liar, because his mum told him so, based on the tabloid rag.

He’s alone, oh so alone, the loneliest alone person in Lonelyville.

Of course, it’s not going to stay that way for too long. Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) aren’t about to let Harry wallow in self-pity for too long. Even better, like the best friends any person can ever hope to have, they force him to become a better person by reinforcing his connection with the people around him.

The Ministry of Magic, however, either out of Evilness or out of stupidity, decides to make the lives of the denizens of Hogwarts a living hell by imposing their will upon the hallowed institution. A new overseer in the form of the monstrous and always pink Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) arrives at the school under the guise of enforcing the dictates and regulations of the Ministry. She is the epitome of the evil bureaucrat who uses the irresistible power of bureaucracy to smother the life out of the students and faculty.

As the teachers become progressively more powerless, and Dumbledore inexplicably allows Umbridge to do whatever the hell she wants throughout the school, Harry and his fellow students face a very real danger. Umbridge, through one of her thousands of edicts, changes the curriculum for the subject of Protection Against the Dark Arts so that the students don’t learn shit about how to actually fight and protect themselves from the minions of the Dark Underpanted One. So it’s up to Hermione and Ron to convince Harry that there’s an incredibly important role he needs to now accept if they’re not to be overwhelmed by the gathering darkness: that of leader.

I have to admit, it really feels like they got it right for this one. The last two flicks have worked in such a way that I really didn’t like the movies for their first halves, and then had to be won over by the end. This one, better paced, with a more engaging and interesting story (for me), had me from much earlier on. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have matured as actors as their characters have matured, and give a little bit more with each flick.

Radcliffe especially continues to impress with Harry, showing an increasing range with each outing, and definitely carries the epic story on those ever-broadening shoulders. He even gets to kiss a girl for the first time, which, in the scheme of things shouldn’t seem so surprising. Boys his age shouldn’t have to be saving the world all the time; he’s at an age where the highest priority in a teenage boy’s life would be finding secluded places to masturbate frenetically or desperately trying to whine his way into girl’s panties. It’s about time they indicated he was heterosexual by having him kiss Cho (Katie Leung), breaking the hearts of all those slash Ron/Harry, Harry/Hagrid, Harry/Snape, Harry/Voldemort fanfic writers everywhere.

If you don’t understand what was written in the above sentence, please, do yourself a favour, don’t try to find out. It’s a disturbing and strange world out there.

The film culminates in an epic battle between the Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s supporters and the bastard Deatheaters who obey No-Nose. It looks absolutely phenomenal, and that’s not just because I saw the flick at the gigantic IMAX cinema screen in 3D. The only part of the long, long flick in 3D is the ending, which looks great regardless of the trickery on display, and in fact is a bit distracting. The fighting between the Light and Dark looked great, and was well structured and edited, but it culminates in a battle between two old veterans which is probably the best battle of its kind I’ve seen thus far.

There’s aren’t kiddie flicks anymore, if they ever really were. Each flick gets nastier and darker, each flick depicts a world becoming progressively more corrupt and horrifying, and each flick puts Our Heroes in more difficult circumstances for which there aren’t easy solutions. The baddies aren’t baddies just because they look funny and dress in black (just like in real life); they’re baddies because they do great evil to our hero and the people that he loves.

For a story and a flick that you’d think, being part of a seven book series, is essentially a placeholder or a timekiller, Order of the Phoenix is surprisingly rewarding and enjoyable on its own. It’s also different enough from the other flicks to be enjoyed on its own, despite the lack of that awful goddamned word ‘closure’. Even so, it has an appropriate ending, with Harry having the last word, which is spot-on, in my book.

The visuals improve as well with each flick, even to the extent of making Hogwarts look like a more real and solid place. The action climax looks better than anything shown previous, with 3D or without it. Thematically the story is stronger (I say that knowing fans of the books can point to a million subplots that weren’t fleshed out properly or dozens of character moments that should have been elaborated upon), and some of the other characters apart from the key ones are given time to shine. Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), long a joke character, is given more background and developed in an appreciable way.

The depiction of the manipulation of the press, the crushing juggernaut this is a powerful bureaucracy, the rise of Dolores Umbridge and her takeover of the school, the recruiting of inquisitors to do her dirty work (unsurprisingly, Malfoy and his odious hangers-on join eagerly), the revelation that Harry’s dad was a bit of a bully, the Room of Requirement and the training that goes on there, and the exploration of the link between our hero and his nemesis, all add up to an entertaining and meaty story, above and beyond all the fantasy fun on display.

Another new character (from my point of view) is introduced in the form of the ethereal and strange Luna (Evanna Lynch), who I really liked and who really seemed to play an important role. Whenever there are scenes with Cho and Harry tentatively mooning over each other, with Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) seething with jealousy in the background, I couldn’t help but think Harry and Luna were a better match.

Imelda Staunton is pure evil as the sugar coated bureaucrat, even scarier than the real villain. Her perpetual smiles and rule quoting cast a thin veneer over a deeply disturbed and sadistic character. Through her machinations we see the particularly ugly punishment she perpetrates on the children by use of a cursed quill that engraves the flesh of the writer with the words they write. Ugly stuff. It’s a reminder of the deep roots the Rowling story has in the uglier recesses of the British public school system, and the lingering glimmers of the days of rugby, corporal punishment and routine sodomy that forms the basis of the school experience she was going for. Perhaps without the last element I mentioned.

Ron and Hermione continue their goofy courtship, with the dorky Ron getting possessive and jealous every time any guy, especially bigger guys, put their hands on Hermione. And Hermione is her usual haughty, sarcastic, occasionally vulnerable self. Their rivalry is but a thin disguise for the passion that lurks beneath these jailbait chests.

For all the things that they get right (this outing is directed by David Yates, whose previous experience is all in television), there’s a bunch of stuff that just came across as pretty piss-weak. There were elements and bits of dialogue I did not understand at all, and was none the wiser even when the film ended (padfoots and narguls and, hell, I’m none the wiser). The Room of Requirement itself is awfully convenient, and smacks of the weak multiple and arbitrary deus ex machina that permeate Rowling’s books. I didn’t adequately understand why Umbridge was allowed to so radically change everything at the school so easily, especially by Dumbledore, who is absent for most of the flick’s duration. Umbridge’s fate in the end is pretty murky. All this and more could probably be answered by reading the books, but, to be honest, I’d rather shoot myself in the head.

I had a blast all the same, probably more so than any of the other flicks in this series. I’m popping my cherry here, since this is the first flick of the series that I’ve reviewed, so I hope you Potter tragics appreciate this. If the next two flicks continue this trend of enhancing and deepening the story and the relationships between the characters and their crazy world, then it bodes well for the future.

And I can honestly say that, for the first time, I’m actually looking forward to it.

8 reasons why Harry Potter grows up and marries you, young muggle, out of 10

“You're a fool, Harry Potter, and you will lose everything.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.