Death and darkness haunt Harry Potter
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Julie Walters, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Katie Leung, Ralph Fiennes; Dir: David Yates; Cert: 12A; 2hrs 25mIt's dark.
By Andrew Clarke
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Julie Walters, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Katie Leung, Ralph Fiennes; Dir: David Yates; Cert: 12A; 2hrs 25m
It's dark. It's dangerous - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is about the most film of the summer. It's a gripping, compelling watch but its not a movie to see if you want just to switch off and have a good time.
It's a movie about facing up to responsibilities, about growing up, about dealing with death and making choices - dealing with right and wrong in a world where if you make the wrong decision someone you love dies.
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As a result this latest film is far darker than previous instalments - infact it is positively brooding. There is a sense of despair and futility in the air which pervades every inch of this film - a feeling which is not resolved by the time the end credits roll.
The story matches the mood of the young heroes who know that much of the wizarding world is out to get them. Director David Yates, who made his mark with the TV drama State of Play, emphasises this dark, despairing atmosphere by using a Tim Burton-esque colour palette which rarely drifts away from black or deep, dark blues.
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There is also far less light relief in this movie - far fewer moments of humour to distract us from the edginess and danger contained in the story. It's a process which started in the third film The Prisoner of Azkaban, continued into The Goblet of Fire and has now reached full fruitarian in The Order of the Phoenix.
The teasing and the light-hearted banter between Hermoine and Ron is now almost a distant memory. There are just two pointed exchanges in the whole film and are more about putting on a brave face while facing adversity rather than any genuine attempt at friendly rivalry.
The Order of the Phoenix rejoices in a tightly woven narrative which probably relies on the fact that the audience need to be up to speed with the previous adventures in order to make sense of what is happening. This is not so much a self-contained sequel or a re-run of what's gone before but more of a next chapter in a continuing tale.
The story maybe fantastic but author JK Rowling and the film-makers have created a magical world where it is easy to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the imaginative spells and creatures which explode and swoop their way across the screen.
The movie is also given an added aura of believability thanks to some magnificently grand performances from the stellar cast which also help to propel the story along at a break neck speed. The complex story runs for nearly two-and-a-half hours but audiences will hardly notice the time flash by.
So what is The Order of the Phoenix? Well, it turns out that it's a secret society founded by Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore to fight wicked wizard Lord Voldemort during his previous reign of terror. The Order has now been revived to protect Harry from Voldemort's attentions.
However, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy) is in a state of denial about Voldemort's return and outlaws this magical order. He also sends his lackey Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to take control of Hogwarts away from Dumbledore who, in his paranoia, Fudge believes is trying to undermine his position in the wizarding world.
Under the clucking control of Dolores Umbridge, Defence Against The Dark Arts is reduced to an academic exercise leaving Voldemort free to inveigle his way into society.
At first Harry, haunted by nightmares of Voldemort, turns his back on his friends - giving Hermoine and Ron the cold shoulder before realising that he is pushing away the very people who are giving him love and support. They in turn manage to recruit a host of sympathic Hogwarts students to what Harry calls Dumbledore's Army.
Harry believes that if Voldemort does make his move, then they all need to be able to protect themselves - regardless of what the Ministry of Magic says.
It turns out that Voldemort is invading Harry's dreams because he needs access of a prophecy which only the boy wizard can retrieve and the best way that the evil Lord can goad Harry into action is by torturing his friends.
Ralph Fiennes delivers another chilling performance as Voldemort while we finally get to see the caring side of Gary Oldman as Harry's godfather Sirius Black but it is newcomer Evanna Lynch as the ethereal Luna Lovegood which makes the strongest impression in the supporting cast.
Everyone is talking about Harry's first on-screen kiss with sweetheart Cho Chang (Katie Leung). It happens quietly and is gone. I would have thought that more of a song and dance would have been made of it but Cho takes more of a back seat in the film than she does in the book. Director David Yates believes that Luna bizarre nature is more appealing to young audiences than a teenage romance.
It also fits in with the dark feel that Yates has conjured up for the film. At times the atmosphere is quite oppressive and is more akin to that of a film with a 15 or, dare I say it, an 18 certificate. Harry Potter and he Order of the Phoenix is not a gory film but it is relentless in its unsettling nature. The atmosphere created by the noises and sounds, the half seen shapes lurking in corners and masked Deatheaters seen leaping out at Harry and his friends could have younger members of the audience waking up screaming in the night.
The film ends with a portent of doom hanging over Harry which cleverly primes us for the next film. Dark, disturbing but a fantastic, gripping watch from start to finish.