Harryís Magic Returns in Brooding Phoenix
Iíd be lying if I said I needed more adventures of Harry Potter. Iíve made no secret of the fact that Iíve never really understood the fascination, never found myself swept up in the hysteria J.K. Rowlingís character has caused within the minds of apparently the entire novel reading world. Donít get me wrong, the books are perfectly nice (and anything that gets youngsters to engage in literary pursuits is just fine by me), Iím just not one of the huddled masses going nuts for the stuff.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) experiences his first kiss with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) in Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I feel pretty much the same about the films. While it is true I adore Alfonso Cuarůnís near-perfect third entry in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the other three donít get much of a rise out of me one way or the other. Overall their perfectly pleasant enough, just not so wonderful Iíd ever wish they were with me if I found myself stranded upon a deserted island.
So imagine my genuine surprise walking out of the theater to discover just how much I enjoyed director David Yatesí take on part five Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. For the first time since Cuarůnís superlative chapter I find myself actually interested in both the character of Mr. Potter and of what is going to be happening next to him. This is a grandly entertaining voyage, one full of mystery, intrigue, suspense and majesty the majority of the other films sadly lack.
Granted, there is still a rudimentary feel to all of this thatís starting to get a bit dull. Another school year and a whole new set of mysteries for Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, finally coming into his own as an actor) and his friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, still this seriesí best and most underutilized asset) and Ronald Weasley (Rupert Grint) to try and solve. The thing is, checking in with these chums every Fall is getting a little tedious. Sure theyíre all a bit older and facing some seriously adult problems, but Hogwarts is still just a big boarding school, and skulking around its corridors looking for new places to play is beginning to become more than a tad tiresome.
Yet somehow BBC television veteran Yates and company manage to overcome this inherent banality and turn their film into a first-rate adventure worth discovering. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Contact) delicately weaves Rowlingís complex narrative into an easy to follow nail-biter full of imagination and energy, the film taking on a more mature level of immediacy and danger I must admit to not really thinking the series had in it. The first PG-13 picture of the bunch, the stakes are raised here and Yates shows no predilection to hide that fact, the feeling Potter and his band of friends could meet with destruction at any given moment both omnipresent and eerily palpable.
And from where does this destruction come? Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, still deliciously evil even without a nose), of course, but heís not the only one with his sights on Harryís devastation. Thereís a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher on campus, Professor Dolores Umbridge (a wickedly memorable Imelda Staunton), and if she has her way Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and his entire staff will be thrown out on their fannies before they know what hits them next.
The subtle commentary leveled by these Brits against the steadfastly-clueless-even-in-the-face-of-irrefutable-evidence political administration currently running things in the United States is impossible to miss, but as cute (and as correct) as it is thatís not the only trick Yates and company have up their sleeves. There is a visceral pathos to Harryís tragic tale that heretofore hasnít been echoed (even in Cuarůnís episode), the director contrasting the wizarding studentís puberty and growth as a young man with the certain knowledge he might just be required to someday give the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the world.
What that will look like is anybodyís guess. While the world will undoubtedly gobble up the final book in the Potter franchise on July 21, for the first time in ages I find I am actually excited about discovering what happens to Potter cinematically. No small thing (especially considering this fifth piece of the puzzle is nothing more than an unfinished bridge to the final climactic episodes to come), but I canít say Iím about to look a gift horse in the mouth. For at least one more year it is safe to say the magic surrounding Harry and Hogwarts is finally back, and if thatís not good news for both fans and non-fans alike Iím not quite sure I know what is.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)