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Ron, Harry, and Hermione are back in Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Rated PG13

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Before watching the latest installment of the Harry Potter series, I looked over my reviews of the previous four movies and noted that I said they all have been of a consistently high quality. About an hour into Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, I was worried that the fifth installment would be the one to bring the series down a notch. It came close but the movie redeemed itself in the final act. One thing is for certain: it's quite obvious that things have taken a darker turn in the world J. K. Rowling has created.

In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds himself in danger of being expelled from Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry due to using magic in the presence of a Muggle. Harry is also the target of a smear campaign by the Ministry of Magic, who feel he is trying to subvert them by spreading rumors about the return of Lord Voldemort. To keep him under control, they install Professor Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as Hogwart's new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. She immediately begins taking over the school and making life difficult for Harry and his friends.

As Harry battles with the Ministry, he's also faced with the internal struggle caused by his recent encounter with Lord Voldemort. He increasingly feels alienated from his peers. As they struggle with puberty, he's coming to grips with the fact that he's the target of a dark lord.

Easily, The Order of the Phoenix is the darkest and most adult of the Harry Potter movies so far. As the series has progressed, each installment has descended further into darkness. There has always been an undercurrent of gloom running through the series but this time out it almost completely snuffs out the fun. The first hour of The Order of the Phoenix is painfully unlike any of the other movies, almost to the point of unpleasantness. Thankfully, things brighten enough to make the film worthwhile.

The series' strongest asset remains the cast that has stayed more or less intact since the first film in 2001. Aside from the unfortunate death of the original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, and the inclusion of new characters, the core cast hasn't changed. The chemistry and familiarity with the characters that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson each possess has been reflected onscreen in their portrayal of Harry, Ron, and Hermione respectively.

Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix is not the easiest movie of the series to watch but it still retains the high standards of the previous four. Director David Yates, who will also helm the next movie, Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince, lacks the artistic flair of previous directors in the series, but still does a workmanlike job in keeping the pacing brisk. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg does an admirable job in focusing the action on the key elements of the book, which some feel is the weakest in the series.

With one book left to go in the literary series and two movies to go, I remain hopeful that neither collection collapses under the weight of the hype being generated by Pottermania. So far, the movies are doing a great job holding together.

Trivia: During the breakfast scene in the Great Hall, a box of cereal can be seen with the name Cheeri-Owls with a color scheme similar to that of a Cheerios box. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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