Release Date: 7/11/07
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Warwick Davis, Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Staunton, Evanna Lynch, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter
With this film it's quite clear that the previous films are required viewing. Even so, I was constantly confused by who was who, and no effort was made to re-introduce any of the secondary characters. The film gets off to a rocky start as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is attacked by a Dementor and forced to defend himself with a magical spell attack. This brings down the wrath of the Ministry of Magic who has him expelled from school. Fortunately, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) steps in and gets the boy a legal hearing, and after some tense political and courtroom drama, the charges are cleared. The Ministry brands both Harry and Dumbledore as liars and troublemakers, and once again poor Harry's reputation is slandered. Thankfully, his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are steadfastly at his side to support and encourage him. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is recruiting a dark army, and Dumbledore's forces are attempting to do the same through a secret society known as The Order Of The Phoenix. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Magic blocks their every move and sends Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts to take over the school, with dire results. In response to this, Harry, Ron, and Hermione set up their own secret society to help train them in the arts of defense, and Harry sees a little bit of romance on the side. Not surprisingly, it's bitter and short-lived. Ultimately, everything leads to a battle between Dumbledore's forces and Voldemort's forces, extracting a heavy toll and setting the stage for even more intense bloodshed to follow.
As yet another bridge episode, not much actually happens in the film, and it's mostly about how many miserable things can happen to poor Harry. He's very angry and frustrated in this film, which gets him into more trouble because he can't seem to keep his mouth shut. With such a huge cast of secondary characters, none of them have much of an opportunity to do anything, so it feels like everyone is just going through the motions. While the film's pacing is steady, it feels somewhat slow and sluggish. It's also emotionally flat, and the lack of emotional intensity steals any spark of life from the film. The one bright spot is a new character named Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), who radiates immense charm. She has a special connection with Harry, as they can both perceive things that most people can't. Imelda Staunton does a fantastic job of being utterly despicable, and represents the heavy hand of political bureaucracy and the oppressive might of government propaganda. This is not a happy film at all, and is full of darkness, villainy, strife, and despair. The "good guys" are under constant fire from all sides and their plight seems hopeless. They are effectively a terrorist cell at this point, making preparations for Armageddon. The visual effects are competent and oddly subtle, as if not wanting to attract attention to themselves. I was particularly dismayed with one effect that had Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) talking to Harry through a fire. It was a simple composite, as opposed to a previous film where his face was actually morphed into the embers of the fire. The music is once again radically different from the other entries, which sets up a different tone. Thankfully, the closing credits aren't nearly as dreadful as they were in "The Goblet Of Fire" (2005). Overall, the series is starting to stagnate. While it still maintains a certain quality level and meets expectations, it's not making significant improvements. It will be interesting to see how the final films play out.