"Three stars (PG-13)
Holy smokes, Hogwarts has been taken over by Republicans! Paranoia, alienation and angst abound in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where it appears that the bleak shall inherit the earth. Remember the images of exuberant youngsters flying through the sunny skies from earlier films in the series? Treasure those memories, because currently the smiles are fleeting, the palette is as dark as the mood and the kids are most certainly not all right.
Of course, none of this is news to the Potter faithful, who have already read the book on which this is based as well as the one that follows it, and are eagerly awaiting the seventh, and supposedly final, J.K. Rowling novel about the teen wizard and his comrades.
I’m not one of the faithful. I’ve seen each of the Potter films once and appreciated them all, while preferring the latter productions. Though I recognize that each installment represents part of an epic story arc, my relative lack of familiarity means I can only assess this as a standalone movie.
Despite being taken aback at how dark life has become in The Order of the Phoenix, I enjoyed the film, though not as much as the last two. Harry’s estrangement from pretty much everybody casts a pall over the movie — and yes, I understand that that’s how the story is structured, but there were moments where I wanted to grab the young wizard by the shoulders and shout, “Lighten up! Take a nap, have a snack, go play that game where everybody flies around trying to get balls through hoops, just stop moping and glowering!”
I won’t go into all the details about why Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is so damn grim. Suffice to say, he knows that all hell is about to break loose. Of course, the powers that be won’t listen to his warnings. Close friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) try to be supportive, but Harry’s attitude makes it almost impossible to connect.
While Harry glowers, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is experiencing major staffing problems. The great Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) joins the massive cast of renowned British actors as instructor Delores Umbridge, who looks like your sweet old aunt and behaves like Brian Bosma. Delores sets out to make Hogwarts as prim and proper as she considers herself to be, using her powers, political clout and natural bullying skills to try to extinguish the fire of the students. The escalating conflict between her and a handful of rebellious teens provides some of the most entertaining scenes in the film. Inserted into all of this is a sorta-romance for Harry, culminating in a first kiss that packs scant emotional punch because the relationship is unconvincing.
Luckily, all the gloom and doom builds to some major confrontations, as director David Yates and company provide some wow moments and a respite from all the exposition. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix pays off well enough to almost make up for the excessive yakking. The depressing tone grows tiresome at times, but at least it leads to a rewarding climax.