One of the best aspects of the Harry Potter series is how the subject matter becomes increasingly mature as the characters grow up.  In
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” Harry and friends face their most frightening demons yet, and by this point in the series that’s
getting pretty frightening.

“Order of the Phoenix” is easily the most emotionally dense of the films thus far.  There is a complex drama prevalent throughout the story
dealing with the difference between good and evil, fear and friendship.

After the evil Lord Voldemort’s return in 2005’s “Goblet of Fire,” the entire wizarding community has ostracized Harry, refusing to believe
that He Who Must Not Be Named has come back.

The Ministry of Magic appoints Dolores Umbridge to slowly begin a fascistic rule over Hogwarts and usurp power from Dumbledore, who is
among the few in Harry’s corner.

Imelda Staunton’s performance as Umbridge is fantastic.  Behind her sweet, pink-clad exterior she is absolutely vile and despicable.  
Staunton could have gone the cartoon route with the character, but she makes Umbridge believable enough to be genuinely scary.  The
teacher from hell is an understatement.

In response, Harry and his friends form Dumbledore’s Army to fight back.  There are some really fun sequences where Harry teaches the
group defensive spells.  Outside of the ominous atmosphere purveying the entire film, these are a welcome bit of light-hearted fun,
especially for the increasingly angry and depressed Harry.

Daniel Radcliffe has grown up as The Boy Who Lived and has gotten better in each subsequent film.  In “Order of the Phoenix,” Radcliffe
gets a chance to show a much wider range of skill through the emotional nature of the plot, and he absolutely nails it.

There are some great dramatic scenes between Harry and his godfather Sirius (played brilliantly once again by Gary Oldman) that hit all the
right notes.

In fact the entire returning cast is excellent as usual, although many of them are underused.  And that really brings us to the film’s one
shortcoming.

“Order of the Phoenix” is the longest book in the series, and there is a noticeable struggle to include as much as possible.  As a result, first
time Potter screenwriter Michael Goldenberg crams a bit too much into the script.  Some scenes feel unnecessary and some feel
underplayed and slightly rushed simply because there is not enough time.

Aside from this problem, which I suppose added to the briskness of film from a certain point of view, “Order of the Phoenix” is beautifully
made and stands alongside “Prisoner of Azkaban” as the best in the series.

First time feature film director David Yates isn’t as naturally stylish as Alfonso Cuaron, but he does have a lot of style.  Even more
importantly, he gets great performances out of his actors.  Yates is also directing the next film, and it’s in good hands.

Despite having no experience with special effects action, Yates pulls off a thrilling and visually stunning finale without ever losing sight of
the drama.

Also new to the game is composer Nicholas Hooper.  Although I wouldn’t rank his score in same ballpark as John Williams’ brilliant work for
“Prisoner of Azkaban,” he does have some truly great moments and captures the Potter spirit better than Patrick Doyle did for “Goblet of
Fire.”

“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is a very good film that falls a hair short of excellence because of the slightly busy screenplay.  
The movie is fantastically thrilling and entertaining and takes the series to an emotional level beyond its predecessors.

* * * 1/2
(out of four)
HARRY POTTER AND THE
ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Michael Goldenberg

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint,
Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon

Cinematography by: Slawomir Idziak

Music by: Nicholas Hooper

Released: July 11, 2007; 139 Minutes