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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The eagerly anticipated fifth offering in the Potter juggernaut could well be called Harry Potter and the Tedious Bureaucracy. Beginning with his expulsion from Hogwarts Academy for using magic in the muggle world against invading, soul-sucking Dementors, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is slapped with rule after rule and penalty after penalty, beginning with a Ministry hearing in which we are introduced to new villain Dolores Jane Umbridge, (Imelda Staunton) a frightfully cheery and malevolent matron who ultimately gains control of Hogwarts Academy.

There is a tremendously involved plot which all boils down to evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) versus noble Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) when all is said and done. The Ministry (read bureaucracy) discredits Dumbledore and Harry for believing that Voldemort is still alive.

Voldemort is back, but believing this is the utmost taboo for some reason. Dumbledore and Harry are ridiculed by the Ministry, which governs the society of witches and wizards. Meanwhile, He Who Must Not Be Named (Voldemort) is the noseless, veal-skinned entity, eternally pissed off and coveting a prophecy that only Harry possesses. A cameo by raving maniac and Azkaban escapee Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) gives even more evil power to the Voldemort camp. Ever vicious and ice-blond Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) rounds out this unholy trinity, but there’s no end to the dark characters (Death Eaters) that will aid the pale uber-villain.

The good trinity, Harry, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger, (Emma Watson) have matured into attractive teens that can strategize, combat and prevail throughout any crisis. The adults are the problem, as usual.

The Order of the Phoenix, a secret society started by Dumbledore and headed by Harry’s godfather and former Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black, (Gary Oldman) is spoken of but never materializes. How’s that for a titular tease.

Meanwhile, the sinister Ms. Umbridge spews a sugary verbal poison all over the Academy and proclaims dozens of new rules, regulations and decrees, literally carved in stone upon one venerable wall: no more student groups, boys and girls must be separated by eight inches at all times, no student newspaper, etc. The pink-clad, diabolically smiling Ms. Umbridge is a Ministry devotee who seeks to disable Hogwarts’ fledgling wizards and witches through dreary theoretical lessons and hands-off approach to self-defense against the dark arts. Her methods do not preclude literally torturing students with writing assignments.

Potter forms Dumbledore’s Army, made up of students who believe him and have debts to settle with Voldemort and company. The self-defensive wand pointing begins.

We find out snippets of information about other previously important characters. Potions master Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) was bullied as a student (by who is one of the few surprises). Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) has a secret brother, even larger than himself. Hogwarts Castle provides its own training room for Dumbledore’s Army based solely on its students’ need for it. Harry gets his first kiss with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) and a clever ally in Luna Lovegood, (Evanna Lynch) who can control the flying horse-like creatures on the students’ revelatory trip to London, into the Department of Mystery where a pivotal confrontation takes place, including a death.

The darkest, least magical and most human of the Potter series, Phoenix glances over previous characters in a series of cameos that serve to distract and confuse novice viewers. The charm of previous efforts has been replaced with a Hatfield/McCoy type feud that goes back decades and has so many tentacles that it strangles itself in convoluted storylines.

There’s no Quidditch match this time, although the enlarged role of the Weasley twins, Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) have them riding the lightning-fast brooms and wreaking well-deserved havoc on a repressed Hogwarts Academy.

Harry, who is the catalyst for every major event in these films, is always the last to know his history/destiny. All around him nod knowingly and talk in riddles, but poor Harry, and frequently the viewer, is left perplexingly in the dark. No wonder Daniel Radcliffe looks frustrated and angry throughout the proceedings. Worthy of notice is Imelda Staunton, a scene stealer in pink who will have you seeing red.

Director David Yates had the daunting task of taking J.K. Rowling’s nearly 900 page book (her longest in the series) and squeezing it into the 2 hour, 18 min running time. Screenwriter Michael Greenburg’s ambitious venture is crammed with vital information from beginning to end. The problem is there’s no time to digest all of the British-accented secrets spewing forth at every turn, sometimes whispered. Then, something will fly or explode, trying to get us to remember the enchantment of the past installments. Unfortunately, this never seems to happen, and the film ends with an anticlimactic whimper.

If there was ever a need for a Phoenix, it is now. Please resurrect the Harry we knew and loved out of the ashes and let us rediscover what we liked about him, even if that takes yet another film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Characters, to set us straight.

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