By EW Staff
Updated July 11, 2007 at 12:00 PM EDT
Murray Close

It’s been exactly 600 days since the last Harry Potter flick (Goblet of Fire) hit theaters — not that this diehard fan has been counting or anything — so needless to say, anticipation for today’s release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixhas been higher than a Mariah Carey glory note. Making things even more interesting, the franchise gets a new director (David Yates) and screenwriter (Contact‘s Michael Goldenberg), who face the tall order of bringing the longest Potter book (896 pages) to the big screen, whilestaying true to the words of J.K. Rowling. EW’s own Lisa Schwarzbaum calls Yates a “shrewd choice” in her B+ review of the flick (click here to read it); here’s what other critics around the nation have to say, and be sure tolet your fellow PopWatchers know what you think once you’ve seen it for yourself.

Colin Bertram, New York Daily News: “In previous Potter movies, nonessential story lines and silly character setpieces added little but minutes to the film’s running time. Here, British directorDavid Yates (TV’s Sex Traffic and The Girl in the Cafe)keeps the subplots, the oversentimentality (most notably in a crucial deathscene) and regular supporting cast (Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, RobbieColtrane, Alan Rickman) firmly in check.”

David Germain, The Associated Press: “Director David Yates and screenwriter MichaelGoldenberg deliver the shortest Potter movie yet, though Order of thePhoenix is the longest novel at 800-plus pages. The movie gains inmomentum but loses a lot of the fun and wonder of previous installments.Granted, the stories grow gloomier as Harry’s ultimate challenge approaches inbook seven, but he has faced doom and death before and still managed to have agood time.”

Christopher Kelly,Star-Telegram: “Even grading on a curve, this new movieturns out to be a near disaster. Director David Yates (The Girl in the Cafe) andscreenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Contact)– both newcomers to the franchise — have no handle on Rowling’s shapelessnarrative. They merely give in to the sprawl. The result is talky, tedious and –if you haven’t recently read Phoenix — nearly impossible to follow.”

Desson Thomson, WashingtonPost: “Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg and director David Yates (aBritish filmmaker with a television background) have transformed J.K. Rowling’sgarrulous storytelling into something leaner, moodier and more compelling, thatticks with metronomic purpose as the story flits between psychological darknessand cartoonish slapstick.”

addCredit(“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Murray Close”)

Mary F. Pols, Contra Costa Times: “We certainly want freshenergy brought to each film, but at the same time, there needs to be acontinuity beyond just the actors and the setting. Reading Rowling’s books,we’re not thinking, oh, now this one should feel like a David Lynch film whilethat earlier one was really a family picture. On the page, they are all part ofthe universe of Harry Potter, a universe we’ve all been rather pleased with,apparently. But on the screen, the stories, now in their fourth set of hands,feel uncomfortably fractured. Thank heavens for books.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Yates and his team handle the film’s visuals well, including theimpressive sets for the atrium of the Ministry of Magic and its Hall ofProphecy, as well as fine flying sequences involving either broomsticks or equinecreatures called Thestrals. The director also works well with the film’sjuvenile leads, which is important, because these are the raging hormone yearsat Hogwarts School, and that is especially true where Harry isconcerned.”

Brian Orndorf,“Yates pulls a much more profound performance out of Radcliffe in afeature that rests entirely on the young actor’s shoulders. It helps that he’sworking with the absolute best English talent (Michael Gambon, Jason Issacs,and Fiennes are all outstanding), but Yates is digging a little deeper than hispredecessors ever could. He’s working with a plot that doesn’t cause a dramaticearthquake, but instead seethes and builds to a terrific sense of future war.”

Mike Russell, The Oregonian: “In this fifth story, ourwizard hero Harry spends a lot of time brooding over what happened in ChapterFour — and no one believes him when he says things are, in fact, about to gostraight to heck. This puts Order of the Phoenix in a difficult, in-between place, asauthor J.K. Rowling lines up her dramatic chess pieces and builds a sense ofdread. Fortunately, the filmmakers (director David Yates and scenarist MichaelGoldenberg) understand this, and respond by focusing on Rowling’s characters(and small moments between them) to a degree that’s unprecedented in the movieseries. With its long, character-driven setup and gleefully loopy ending, Order of the Phoenix is a strangely relaxed and frequently funny installment. To mythinking, it stands right behind Harry Potter and the Prisoner ofAzkaban as the best in the movie series.”

Josh Larsen, Sun-Times News Group: “Goblet of Fire, particularly, left me exhausted. The effects wereoverwhelming and the narrative was beginning to slip beyond my grasp. Yet Orderof the Phoenix — streamlined, psychological, dare I sayreserved? — wooed me back. It’s as if the series has paused to rest, lay offthe magic a bit and prepare for its final, two-film push.”