Playtime is definitely over in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. In the first few minutes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our boy, er, man Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) performs necessary magic to save himself and his muggle relatives. Right then and there it’s clear; childhood has become a dream of the past. Gone are the days of Quidditch and chocolate-covered frogs. For any kid Harry’s age, the scariest reality is the notion of growing up.
Underneath the darker tones, nifty visual effects and the high production values, Order of the Phoenix works best once you realize that it’s simply a strong coming-of-age story making the fifth installment of this well-crafted franchise a worthy entry; if not necessarily its best or most eloquent. It’s not as rich as Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban and perhaps much more disjointed than Goblet of Fire. Here, director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg make it clear that this latest saga is a transitional piece—a placeholder during a phase of growth teasing us with uneven jolts of something far more thrilling, more sinister and perhaps even more enjoyable in things to come. A clever parallel to or our trio of heroes, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson), who also seem to be stuck in a similar phase of growth: puberty.
This time around, Harry faces a prickly new teacher, Miss Umbridge, played with delight by Imelda Staunton. She’s the epitome of that cheery, suburban socialite—like one of those church ladies you know who’s got an evil side underneath that plastered smile. But her veneer is convincing. No one believes Harry except for a trusty handful. Bureaucracy, in the form of the Ministry of Magic, has become such a negative commodity in the wizarding world that you wonder if it’s a social commentary on the part of the filmmakers or the author. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) haunts Harry in his nightmares, and the increasing denial of evil reignites an order to stand against it, not just in the wizarding world, because sadly this evil sorcery has trickled into ours. All this lies on the fate of Harry, and his weariness is all the more apparent. Finally, Harry comes to his own and Radcliffe nails the character down in perhaps his best performance as the kid wizard.
There is magic and mayhem all around, and loads of exposition but make no mistake, this is Harry’s darkest tale yet. When Harry recalls his encounter with the Dementors, those ghost-like creatures in black tattered threads, you can’t help but agree with him. “It was as though all the happiness had gone from the world,” An accurate description of the film’s tone. Perhaps younger viewers will find it scarier and dragging at parts, but fans of the series will eat this up. It’s nice to see the characters progress no matter their direction, and of course there’s That Kiss, which in my opinion, falls a bit flat and forced.
The key to the Harry Potter films is that all-star British cast. With such names as Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Jason Isaacs, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, George Harris and Julie Walters, you’d think a cast like this would be doing rep for a Royal Shakespeare Company production of ‘Mother Courage.’ Instead, they’ve all come together to be part of a Hollywood blockbuster targeted for a much younger demographic then they are all probably used to.
Perhaps the most advantageous aspect of the entire Harry Potter universe is synergy.
Credit can go to J.K. Rowling, the author/creator of the franchise, or perhaps to Warner Bros, for cleverly marketing their now profitable acquisition, turning what started out as a small English children’s novel into a blockbuster tentpole. Yet, the real credit goes to the fans.
Take for example my little sister, a die-hard fan that has grown up reading the books, watching the movies, and gorging herself in the merchandise. She’s roughly Harry’s age, so she’s practically grown up along side Harry, reading his memoirs of Hogwarts and finding relatable experiences with Hermoine Granger. Now when the last book is finally published in a few days, all those summer evenings of reading the books together with friends, going on trips to see the latest Potter movie in the local Cineplex, and most importantly, helping them pass through that awkward ‘tween’ phase of crushes and growing pains—all that will become part of their childhood memories because they grew up with Harry Potter, and Harry Potter on the other hand helped them grow up.