Before Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix even begins, the tone is set with the Warner Bros logo and title screen shrouded in storm clouds foreshadowing the danger that’s about to take control over the wizarding world. With each film, theses screens have been altered to fit the darker tone but with the fifth film, it’s the darkest it’s been. Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry is no longer a safe space for its faculty, staff and students. And following the events of the previous film where he who must not be named made his inevitable return to power, no one can possibly be prepared for whats to come, not even the boy who lived whose been made out to be a liar by the wizarding world’s mainstream media and their followers.
Yes, even wizards and witches will believe anything the media tells them without so much as doing their own research or seeing the change in weather for themselves. But Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) still has his supporters and those who believe him that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. Those in doubt remain vigilant in tarnishing the reputations of their once savoir and the most powerful wizard and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) any chance they get.
Year 5 for Harry, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is set to be the most challenging year they could experience. Once more, the events pick up before the school year begins during the summer holidays where Harry is forced to stay with his aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths). After a run in with Dudley (Harry Melling) and his gang, Harry and Dudley are attacked by dementors, forcing Harry to use magic to save their lives.
The story written by Michael Goldenberg starts to pick up the pace during Harry’s hearing at the Ministry and immediately following the verdict when madam undersecretary Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is appointed by the Minister Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) to be the schools new defense against the dark arts professor, only teaching the students basic theory and tossing out practical application of defensive spells. For all the fifth years, theory will only get them so far as it’s the year the take their ordinary wizarding level exams that will determine their futures beyond Hogwarts’ hollowed walls. With the bare bones method and strict rules in place set by Umbridge, it’s the students inspired by the secret Order of the Phoenix, created by Dumbledore to take action and rebel against the ministry.
Goldenberg is given an uphill climb of adapting the longest novel in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and condenses it down to fit the world that has been established. Fans of the novels will be able to point out the differences instantly including the several character developments that never made it past the editing room. Directed by David Yates, the pair continue with several themes from the previous entries, keeping Order of the Phoenix as a coming of age film and its teenaged witches and wizards complex lives at the forefront. Between classes, secret student groups and puberty, students have it rough. Add on the whispers and rumors that Voldemort is back and recruiting followers to join his cause for exterminating anyone who is less than a pureblooded witch or wizard, by extreme measures of prejudice.
Throughout each adaptation, one of the many strengths this franchise has enjoyed starts with the endless talented ensemble. Led by Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, the three leads continue to add depth to their already lived-in roles. Having majority of the cast return keeps the chemistry tight as the characters and their relationships evolve. However it’s the newcomers that come abord and command the spotlight. In the same universe that Voldemort exists, Dolores Jane Umbridge is by far the most vile and cruel characters that has been introduced to the wizarding world.
Imelda Staunton’s bold and terrifying performance makes the character her own, adopting the signature hem-hem and the dangerously sweet demeanor her dialogue is interpreted as. But Imelda is merely one of the new additions that comes in like a tornado and disrupts everything that Harry loves. About halfway through the school year, Yates and cinematographer Sławomir Idziak cut to a breakout at the wizarding prison Azkaban by Voldemort followers including Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).
One of the changes from the novel by Goldenberg was the exclusion of St. Mungo’s hospital where Harry, Ron, and Hermione run into fellow Gryffindor Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis). Bellatrix is most known for using one of the unforgivable curses on Neville’s parents thus leaving Neville to be raised by his grandmother. Goldenberg tells the film version of this subplot effectively that still gives enough exposition during the climatic action sequence of the 3rd act. Just like Staunton, Bonham Carter is a force of nature as Bellatrix, tapping into an unhinged and sadistic realm her character thrives in.
Outside of another truly remarkable ensemble cast, the wizarding world is as full of life as ever. The castle has evolved since you first walked through the doors of the great hall and despite the doom and gloom atmosphere, the castle is teeming with a buzz of energy. Yates mutes the color palette creating a depressing and strict environment. “it’s changing out there, there’s a storm coming Harry, just like last time” Hogwarts caretaker Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) delivers to Harry, Ron, and Hermione after returning from an extended absense.
Many of the themes involving love, loss, elitism and bravery make their return but new themes of rebellion and political influence get introduced that furthers the world building in the franchise. The Ministry of Magic’s layout is intricate and full of intrigue that’s waiting to be explored. Production designer Stuart Craig adds layers of detail upon detail to the environments, telling a story in their own right. Nothing says abuse of power and influence like a giant poster of Cornelius Fudge looking down at his subordinates as they make their way to their offices, reminding them how little Fudge thinks of them and their contributions.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first film that’s a major departure from the novel in which it’s based on. Harry’s emotional journey doesn’t come close to the nuance that Rowling adds in her novel, but Radcliffe still squeezes out every bit of depth and dimension he can through the characters feelings of abandonment, loss, anger, and isolation. Year 5 puts Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest of the good guys at a constant disadvantage while the death eaters and their leader Voldemort remain a step ahead. Regardless, hope from Dumbledore and the rest of the titular Order of Phoenix is higher than ever, Harry is the chosen one after all.
Screenplay By: Michael Goldenberg
Directed By: David Yates
Music By: Nicholas Hooper
Cinematography: Sławomir Idziak
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Julie Walters
Where to Watch: Max
Edited By: Mark Day
Release Date: July 11, 2007
Running Time: 2 Hours 18 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Based On: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling