Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix is a dark, twisty, serious movie, with just little touches of the joy or whimsy that animated the first four Harry Potter films.
You have to feel at least some sympathy for any filmmaker who would tackle Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Not only is it the longest of the Harry Potter books, and thus one of the most difficult to compress to a single movie, it has also been regarded by many fans as something of a disappointment. Despite its length, and despite the fact that a significant character dies, not a lot seems to have happened by the time the story ends. Lessons are learned and secrets revealed, but of all the instalments in the series to date, it ends on the least satisfying note.
Even so, despite all these disadvantages, surely a better film could have been made than this one. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a dark, grim, serious film, with little of the joy or whimsy that animated the first four movies—and while some of this can be chalked up to the source material, at least some of the blame has to go to the filmmakers, too.
First, the source material. The last film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, ended on a dark and serious note—with the return of the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and the murder of a student by his hands—but it also ended on a note of potential excitement: with the Dark Lord back, the war between his followers and those on Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) side must be about to begin!
But it turns out that Voldemort keeps a low profile throughout most of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, partly because he wants the wizarding world to think that rumors of his return have been greatly exaggerated. And sure enough, when Harry Potter and his mentor, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), try to tell their fellow wizards and witches that Voldemort has come back, they are accused—by the government, the media and their friends—of lying and fearmongering.
As if all the waiting weren’t bad enough, Harry finds, when he gets to school, that he must spend a lot of time with teachers he hates. It turns out that his nightmares are not merely dreams, but signs of a link between his mind and Voldemort’s—so Dumbledore sends him to Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the potions professor who loathes him, for special lessons on how to block Voldemort’s influence on him.
And then there is Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), the Ministry of Magic official who has been assigned the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor—not so much since she knows how to teach, but since the government wants to keep a close eye on Dumbledore and prevent any more rumors about the Dark Lord from widely spreading. When Harry does insist on, in class, that dark Lord Voldemort has returned, Umbridge gives him a form of detention that Ron and Hermione have every right to call “torture.”
And so Harry, tormented by nightmares, waits for his enemy to show his face to the world. But Harry also waits for lots of other people. His best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) don’t write him all summer, and for some reason Dumbledore seems to be avoiding him, too. And we’re more than halfway into the film before we get a glimpse of Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), the friendly half-giant gameskeeper, who has been away on a secret mission.