We gave it a B+
As millions of readers around the globe fret over whether a certain teen wizard lives or dies in J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final Harry Potter novel (out July 21), they’ll have the fifth installment in Warner Bros.’ franchise to distract them. Not that Phoenix is particularly cheerful, of course: New villains emerge, Harry loses someone dear, and Lord Voldemort’s evil forces begin to move decisively against The Boy Who Lived.
Or, as Warner Bros. calls him, The Boy Who Sells Tickets. Odds are that Phoenix, the latest in a franchise that’s pulled in $3.5 billion worldwide, will perform as well as its predecessors, which averaged $280 million in the States. But, really, who cares? The studio is locked into adapting books 6 and 7, and for the faithful, that’s cause for celebration.
How did David Yates, a British TV vet with no major Hollywood films on his résumé score the reins to a huge franchise and its $200 million budget? He’s not exactly sure himself. After Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and Mira Nair (The Namesake) passed, ”I got a call asking me to come in,” he remembers. ”I said, ‘But I haven’t read any of the books!’ They said, ‘Well, read some, quick.”’ He started with Phoenix, which he felt ”had some wonderfully dark and interesting ideas.”
Although the director inherited his roster of stars, he did get to make one major casting decision: picking Imelda Staunton to play one of fiction’s great villains, Dolores Umbridge, a hissable Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who turns Hogwarts into an Orwellian nightmare of political repression. ”Dolores absolutely believes she’s purging Hogwarts for the greater good,” says Staunton, an Oscar nominee for Vera Drake. ”It’s the ultimate ‘I was just following orders,’ isn’t it?” Says Daniel Radcliffe of the character, who plagues poor Harry with literally torturous detention, ”Bad things don’t only happen when Voldemort is around.” (July 13)