Voila! The baby Radcliffe is finally an adult. Last we heard of him, he was already shedding clothes for a theatre production of Equus. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth instalment of the omnipresent series, you can see him with a full boost of angst ,and-let's face it testosterone.
Potter's transformation is not subtle. In The Goblet of Fire he was still a callow, insecure wizard, looking outward for help. In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry is a teacher, a leader preparing for imminent vanguardism, whose biggest troubles are internal. New director David Yates has also given up the fanciful tricks and games of the previous instalments to focus squarely on JK Rowling's vivid political iconography.
With the magical thrills slashed down, a lot of fans will find this film to be less of a Harry Potter experience than they are used to, and pernickety moms will probably feel alienated as the Potter enterprise disconnects from its previous innocence and playfulness. But many others are perhaps ready for this darker, danker turn. After all, we are to believe that our young hero will vanquish authoritarianism and racism in the end.
Since the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the world of Harry Potter is troubled by increasing repression. Voldemort's army is on the move, as the wizard government attempts to extend its executive power. Terror is pervasive and, just like in the real world, has come to bite principles such as equality and liberty in the behind. Reminiscent of any of the insidious fascist regimes of the 20th century, 'disappearances' galore occur and ordinary people cling on to the status quo, apathetically looking away. Epitomising this trend is the toad-faced Dark Arts teacher Dolores Umbridge, a brutal, self-assured disciplinarian (played flawlessly by Imelda Staunton). Umbridge is the most formidable character in The Order of the Phoenix, all the more creepy for an uncanny resemblance to someone you know in real life.
Rowling's response to all this is a radical resistance. Harry and his friends' commitment to collective action and their talk about "fighting for a cause" form an irrefutably left-leaning venture. But leftists searching for cultural icons in this gargantuan Hollywood enterprise will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that while Harry and Dumbledore could stand up against hegemony, they are hardly revolutionaries.
David Yates deserves credit for being able to keep up with Rowling's prolific symbolism, and for not reducing them to simple binary formulas. In this regard, the choices he and screenplay adapter Michael Goldenberg made in truncating the book seem reasonable.
Unfortunately, the narration is patchy and omissions glaring. The shoddy treatments of the fatality of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and the predicament of Cho Chang (Katie Leung), for example, speak of a negligence that makes the movie experience feel stingy. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have barely anything to do. The new characters look compelling, but again are underdeveloped.
On the whole though, the picture manages to sustain the Harry Potter allure. And even if by itself The Order of the Phoenix isn't an outstanding piece of work, it does triumphantly pique one's interest about future instalments (and of course the final book coming out tomorrow).
Director: David Yates.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Imelda Staunton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman.
2007. PG-13. 138 min.