The Harry Potter film franchise has had its ups and downs, and Order of the Phoenix puts itself somewhere toward the top, but David Yates seems to be going after a style of direction he doesn’t truly understand. The last effort, directed by Mike Newell, harkened back to the first films which were given to us by Chris Columbus. Though the film failed to capture, Mike Newell is just the guy to emulate the easy, bright, none-too-dark in the face of danger style Chris Columbus delivered. David Yates, however, is no match for the dark depth and psychological introspection he was obviously trying to lift from Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron.

Harry Potter Battles Lord Voldemort… Again

The story here is at once the most clever of the franchise and the most trite and pedestrian. There is almost some watchability built into merely managing that combination, but not enough to carry an entire film. The main tension doesn’t come from Voldemort, but from the wizarding bureaucracy intent on stifling any hint that Voldemort might have returned. It is unclear whether these efforts stem from Voldemort’s influence, or some misguided attempt to curtail panic mixed with a certain fear of losing power, but the result is the same. As the film will allude at several junctions, and through a variety of situational monologues, the attempt to control expression is manifestly working for Voldemort, whether you’re working for him or not.

Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge Terrorize the Potter World With Good Intention

In some purely theoretical way (one that works better in the book), it’s a pretty interesting story, and something one might feel compelled to cheer on. The problem with the film is that the general idea is conveyed using hollow stereotypes to some nth degree, and at some point the audience is hard-pressed to feel anything apart from a certain dread that the film just won’t stop. A main foil of the movie is Harry’s semi-buried belief that he is “turning bad.” When met with the omnipresent Dolores Umbridge and her sanctimonious spouting-off – deep-down Harry knows he deserves to be punished. In a better constructed film, this is the sort of inner turmoil versus powers-that-be that can strike a serious chord, and make a meaningful contest of wills, but here it is the only thing going on, and at the expense of all else. There is a fairly legitimate case to be made for the idea that there really isn’t anyone else in this film. That’s a real shame in this case, because the avenues for balancing this film out, and thus delivering a near-brilliant whole are legion. As one small example, one of the best things to come out of this franchise are the few minutes we get to glimpse Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood. “You’re the weak one. And you’ll never know love, or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.” When Harry delivers that line to Voldemort at the end of the film, it not only does not deliver the force intended. It comes over as almost a random statement. We are at the end of a film that is dark and frequently shot through a blue filter, not because we’re working on a theory there, but because critics liked Cuaron’s movie, and that’s what he did. A film where Harry’s brief flashback of moments with his friends and otherwise loved ones can actually give us the entirety of those scenes. We understand the statement, but only because we already understood it, and not because it is a message the film actually conveyed. At the end, the film is actually pretty good, and that might be a surprising statement. It manages good in spite of itself, and mostly because it is trying to do something really clever and fails, as opposed to trying to do something tame and flashy and succeeding. 3.5 out of 5 stars