Here comes Harry Potter for round number five. Will he come out of the corner with the heart of a champion or limp like a homo coming out of a bathhouse? That’s the question I asked as I finally found myself fighting the crowds and going to the cinema last night. It’s a legitimate question, after all, could the series remain fresh after four previous installments (with two additional movies planned)? The trailers seemed to offer a new, darker perspective to our bespectacled, young wizard so I was certainly intrigued by the prospect.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Daniel Radcliffe reprises his role as the chosen one. He’s aged a bit and become much more cynical of the things around him. This is good as things have changed for the worse. No one believes his story about the return of Lord Voldemort (he returned in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”). There is also a long running feud between the current head of the Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). It has gotten so bad that Fudge institutes a take over of the school by appointing a new headmaster Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). She quickly begins to remove professors loyal to Dumbledore and changes the curriculum to a theory only based structure (all done basically to stifle the notion of Voldemort’s return). In an effort to circumvent the new rules, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) convince Harry to train them and his section in the dark arts and prepare them for the upcoming battle with He Who Must Not Be Named.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix basically follows the same premise as its predecessors. The new twist this time around is Harry is more jaded. His attitude and even his appearance has grown more grim. He isn’t used to the notion that he is being smeared in the papers and being called a liar. This causes him to question and push away his friends and allies even though he knows to face the growing evil he’ll need them more than ever. Without any doubt, it is good to see a more mature Potter (he even shares his first kiss with a girl!). The writers have also lessened the role of past characters like gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) while introducing new ones like Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and Potter’s new love interest Cho Chang (Katie Leung).
Yet, while darkening the Potter character and toughening up others is a welcome change, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is still the weakest offering of the lot. That’s because I’ve seen it all before. The flying on broomsticks, the fanciful spell casting and the enchanted creatures are old hat to me now. I appreciate the fact that the director, David Yates, is bringing to the franchise more character development, but it slows the movie to crawl in many spots. And while the final battle is quite the spectacle, it’s really the only “WOW” moment offered by the movie. For me that is a shame — a magical, wizard movie should be filled with incredible incantations and wondrous effects.
I can say that even though I wasn’t blown off of my seat by this particular installment, I do look forward to the next two movies. I don’t suspect Harry will delve any further into darkness, but I expect his new take on everything around him to offer a plethora of new possibilities. Perhaps we’ll see more intense battles and the long awaited hookup between Harry and Hermione (you know you’re waiting for it to happen too). Anyways, no matter what my opinion is, fans of the series are going to flock to the theaters. Casual movie goers, on the other hand, won’t be missing anything of importance if they choose to skip Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.