Amazing fun — that's just one way to sum up "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." The fifth film adapted from the insanely popular book series hit theaters July 11 and boy, is it a doozy.
The story goes as follows: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to the wizarding world to find a revived secret society called the Order of the Phoenix. Their goal: to stop Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Although Potter wants to become a member of the group, the request is declined and he begins his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
However, Potter's fifth year doesn't begin as hoped.
First, no one believes Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Potter's claim that Voldermort has returned. The Ministry of Magic refuses to acknowledge their accounts and the magical newspaper, "The Daily Prophet," is labeling both of them as liars.
The second noticeable difference is the school has a new Defense of the Dark Arts Professor named Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who works for the Ministry of Magic. She's somewhat of a mole for the Ministry, looking for ways to further discredit Potter and Dumbeldore.
Furthermore, Umbridge isn't exactly teaching the students anything about defense or dark arts, instead making them write and rewrite passages from their archaic textbooks for "maximum retention."
Because of Umbridge's unwillingness to teach, Potter and company create Dumbledore's Army, a la resistance-type group of teenage wizards and witches. Together they learn and practice new protective spells.
The film, like the book, is a handful. But the film's beauty doesn't come from its eccentric adaptation — it comes from its fluid telling of a much-condensed story to make it enjoyable for the average moviegoer.
Like each "Harry Potter" film before it, "Order of the Phoenix" is missing things from the novel, most of which is profound character development. In order to understand what's on the screen, it's imperative to have seen the previous films or, better yet, have read the novels.
One thing that's different from previous films is the acting, all around, is quite good. Radcliffe reprises the Potter role well, and has tuned down his overacting during dramatic scenes. This installment's Potter is angst-filled, which could have been taken over the edge but, luckily, it wasn't.
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger does better than she has before. While she still overdoes it with the eyebrow movements, she's an enjoyable watch, and adapts well to the change in her character from being a goodie-goodie to standing up and taking charge.
To complete the magical trio comes Ron Weasley, played by Rupert Grint. Grint is the most-improved actor this film. His role is smaller but he shines through the cast of teenagers.
One addition to the cast includes Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, one of Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters.
Carter, known for her roles in "Big Fish" and "Fight Club," is a solid choice for Lestrange's character. The last name fits, no doubt — she's insane and disheveled, and her only goal is to help purify the magical race by getting rid of the Mudbloods (magic users who have at least one non-magical parent).
Many of the book's fans will fall in love with Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. Lovegood — an awkward, wallflower type of witch — is constantly teased for being weird. She claims to see creatures no one else can see, and her father runs a tabloid that only prints unbelievable "news," "news" she strongly defends.
Lynch is simply great as Lovegood. She pulls off the character's dreamy-eyed and innocent look with ease.
Lynch, 15, and who has been a long-time "Harry Potter" fan, has never had acting classes but tried out for the role. Her demeanor and love for the character won over the casting directors, and thank goodness for that.
Director David Yates ("Rank") makes his "Harry Potter" debut with "Order of the Phoenix." Yates can take credit for transforming the film's atmosphere into what it is — dark, brooding and affective.
He's known for his dramas and sexually explicit scenes, and though "Order of the Phoenix" doesn’t include any of the latter, Yates' directorial vision is paramount in making the film what it is.
The use of camera shots and angles also help in changing the feel of the series.
There are a couple scenes where Yates effectively uses what's commonly called guerilla filming, which is where the camera follows the characters through, mostly, intense situations and scenes, much like in "28 Days Later" or "City of God."
This makes a profound impact on the film's entire impression, as it makes it a more-mature film, which coincides with the fact fans have watched the characters grow since the first "Harry Potter" film debuted in 2001.
"Order of the Phoenix's" sound and visual effects call for some jaw dropping. Both make for an aesthetic experience, especially during the final battle. When wands fling and words are muttered, magic ensues.
Imagine the confrontation between Potter and Lord Voldemort in "Goblet of Fire," but extend it to about three times in length and in awing appeal. The film is full of eye candy, but it's got a strong story, acting and presentation to back it up.
As Potter, his friends and the story mature, so do the films. "Order of the Phoenix," needless to say, isn't for kids who are easily startled.
There are a lot of dark undertones to the film, and a lot of intense and violent scenes and situations. This holds true when Umbridge, a rather bitter and intolerant woman, makes Potter use her special quill to write lines saying, "I must not tell lies." The quill uses the writer's blood as ink, and as the writer writes on the paper, the words cut into his or her hands and arms.
The characters' journey, specifically that of Potter's, resonates compassion. The main themes of the film — companionship, trust and tolerance — really shine through, especially through dialogue between Potter and Lovegood, and Potter and Dumbledore.
If "Order of the Phoenix" is any indication of the upcoming and final two film installments, the series could easily be recognized as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time.
The fact this could be considered the best "Harry Potter" film to date is reason enough to see it. While it's fun and seductive in its nature, and easy to follow, it's also fierce in its delivery.
Potter isn't a child anymore and this film, much like the book, makes it brilliantly apparent. Good thing children aren't the only ones who can appreciate this kind of magic.Rating: