In Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, Voldemort is moving secretly behind the scenes, gathering strength and forces, hoping to avoid detection from the Ministry of Magic, which steadfastly refuses to admit that he has returned. Meanwhile, Dumbledore has reorganized the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society of his closest friends and allies, all devoted to thwarting Voldemort’s movements, which includes protecting something the Dark Lord didn’t have last time; a weapon of sorts, one which haunts Harry’s dreams . . . .
When I saw Order of the Phoenix for the first time, I despised the film. I had written a screenplay adaptation to it for my own entertainment and study, and felt that while it was generally strong, some of my decisions could have made the film more exciting. Nevertheless, having gotten the distance of a few years on it, I find myself enjoying the film immensely. It really is a very solid entry in the series, something which is especially surprising, given that the scriptwriter for all the other Potter films, Steve Kloves, was unavailable to write it. They hired Michael Goldenberg, who adapted the solid 2004 Peter Pan, to replace him, and he did a fine job adapting the nearly 900-page novel for the big screen. One of the strengths of the film is the fact that Goldenberg refused to jettison the emotional core of the book, and actually takes the time to properly develop it. One of the major shortcomings of the films is that they preserve the external events, but remove the inner journey that makes the plots so powerful.
Imelda Staunton, who plays Dolores Jane Umbridge, is perfectly cast as the surrupy villain who begins meddling and interfering at Hogwarts. Umbridge is one of the series’ best villains, because she is both one of the most unexpected and also one of the most realistic. She is so irritating you can barely stand to look at her. A fan of kittens, pink ribbons, and all smiles, she is the perfect representation of your worst teacher nightmare – the teacher that oozes sentimentalism and legalistic rules, but who reveals her truly dark side when those rules are violated. In this way, Umbridge is a true character – we all know someone like this in our lives – and most resembles a classic Flannery O’Connor character. For O’Connor, the truest form of villainy was the sweet old lady who was all smiles and laughs – and then turns out to be the most harsh, vile, legalistic, evil, sadistic woman in the world, petty and mean and backstabbing, and all done with a smile and a chirp of a laugh and a “it’s for your own good, dear,” or “I only say it because I care, darling,” remark.
The film keeps your interest, though it excludes some of the best parts of the book (such as Hagrid’s sacking) and ought to have been twenty minutes longer. A few places where the tension should go up, the film ratchets it back, such as after Harry’s dream of Mr. Weasley’s attack – and the fact that the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort takes place in complete silence is irritating to no end. I mean, what the heck? But beyond these quibbles, it really is a wonderful, engaging film.
Rating: **** out of *****