Odor of the Phoenix 

The subtext of the almost wholly positive critical response to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is quite suitable considering its subject matter: No one wants to believe that ol’ scar-head’s days of whimsy are over, that the dark times are upon us — that Voldemort has indeed returned.

Buck up, comrades, you knew this was coming since the surprise ending of that travesty of a film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (remember, we ended up in a graveyard with Voldemort reborn after virtually no buildup of that plotline?). It’s called a turning point, and what a pity that the Dark Lord had to rear his ugly head just as puberty reared its for our three musketeers.

Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg has sliced and diced J.K. Rowling’s 870-page novel, largely considered the weakest of the books so far, into a complex but coherent screenplay wherein Quidditch has been sacrificed for clarity. Able British director David Yates is the first helmer of a Potter film to be plucked from television, but I think we can all agree that the BBC is not exactly NBC.

Yates’s Potter is a more naturalistic work than its forebears, with the exception of Phoenix’s opening scene, a symmetrically framed, stunted exchange of insults between Harry and his cousin Dudley Dursley that has the ring of Wes Anderson to it (only Wes’s dialogue would’ve been cleverer). This small offense is quickly forgotten as the two teenagers are attacked by dementors — ghoulish creatures who guard the wizard prison, Azkaban, sealing the fate of their victims by sucking out their souls — and the action kicks into gear.

Then Little Whinging’s favorite cat lady (and non-magical witch, turns out), Mrs. Figg arrives at the scene —  a little too underwhelmed that, hello, “the boy who lived” was nearly out a soul — and escorts the young men back to the Dursley’s home. There, Harry learns the magic he used to save his and Dudley’s life has earned him potential expulsion from Hogwarts and a date with the wizard court. Magic is strictly prohibited in the presence of Muggles.

Why, then, do the members of the Order of the Phoenix fly their brooms in plain view as they transport Harry to his godfather’s? You tell me.

Outside of the Order, the greater wizarding world welcomes Harry back with tightly folded arms. The Ministry of Magic, headed by Cornelius Fudge (looking rather like Charles Foster Kane on Ministry banners), has virtually disavowed the former golden child. Fervent belief in Voldemort’s return to the flesh is none too popular a persuasion, profoundly because it signifies the Ministry’s failure. Ergo, Fudge’s shameful attempt to jail Harry for his perfectly legal act of self-defense. “Laws can be changed,” he says (and rights can be terminated. Just look at the Patriot Act.).

However, litigation may be the least of Potter’s troubles: Harry’s having excruciatingly unsettling dreams that he must be taught to repel by his least-favorite teacher, Severus Snape. And while the Defense Against the Dark Arts situation has never been good, this year’s professor is particularly repugnant. Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry-appointed teacher is called, and she certainly lives up to the meaning of her first name. (You’ll love to hate Imelda Staunton as that right-old saccharine pain in the ass.)

It all comes down to a boo-yah, the-Dark-Lord-has-come-back battle in the Ministry, with Voldemort showing his (noseless) face again. Sure, it’s a dumbed-down fight, and sadly Bellatrix Lestrange isn’t nearly as awesomely evil as she in Rowling’s novel, but on the whole, this film really works. And with Yates signed on for number six, I’m looking forward to another Quidditchless good time.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Dir. David Yates; writ. Michael Goldenberg, J.K. Rowling (novel); feat. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Imelda Staunton, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter (PG-13)

More by Ashley Lindstrom



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