We gave it a B+
Say hello to Harry Potter, the Boy Who Broods. Well into his teen years — with all their accompanying social and sexual frustrations, and branded a liar by those who doubt that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) just feels ”so angry all the time.” And Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth entry in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding saga, is equally enraged. Full of both adolescent angst and political subterfuge, the film shows an underlying seriousness that’s been largely absent in the series so far.
Even the look of Phoenix is austere: It’s a wintry, blue-gray film, leached of all color — save the unforgettable Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. The newest (and possibly worst) Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Umbridge is a sugarplum vision of sado-fascism, mentally and physically torturing her young wards while dressed in candy-pink sweater sets. The character exists to crush original thought, and Staunton plays Umbridge with a frighteningly impish giggle. In one of the film’s few relevant deleted scenes, the professor genuinely loses it, ranting that ”sometimes the ends do justify the means” before attempting to kill Harry and Hermione (Emma Watson). British director David Yates generally scatters such ideological nuggets throughout the entire film with more subtlety; authority, dissent, rebellion, war…Phoenix is as much about the state of the world as it is about the horrors of high school.
The two-disc special edition is underwhelming, including a ”previously on Harry Potter” retrospective and a more-trouble-than-it’s-worth ”edit your own scene” function. (And no commentary track from Yates, who’s also at the helm of the sixth film, 2008’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?) Still, the feature itself contains moments galore of cinematic joy (nighttime flights over London, a visceral battle scene that leaves no spell uncast) rivaling anything in the four preceding movies. The Ministry of Magic set — the main hall looks like a cross between Caesars Palace and an Orwellian bureaucratic nightmare — is pleasantly overwhelming. A courtroom interlude, meanwhile, full of crimson-and-black-clad inquisitors, owes some debt to Orson Welles’ version of Kafka’s The Trial. And, most important, the teen actors get better with every outing. The confused look on Ron’s (Rupert Grint) face as Hermione snippily asks, ”Do you ever stop eating?” is simply wonderful. It’s one of the most natural reaction shots in the entire series, a three-second distillation of what makes Phoenix perhaps the best Potter film yet. Despite the magic, the fancy, and the flummery, it remains grounded in the tortured emotions of youth. Who can’t relate to that? B+