I'm going to admit to my bias up front: I am a huge fan of everything involving Harry Potter, although my first love remains the books, each of which is filled with rich detail, a bevy of characters and an intricate backstory that has the distinct feel of mythology.
That's why I don't envy screenwriter Michael Goldenberg and director David Yates, who had the daunting task of condensing J.K. Rowling's fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—weighing in at 896 pages—into a roughly two-hour film that not only makes sense and forwards the overall Harry Potter saga, but also fits with the previous four films, directed by three different directors.
Although the resulting film is far from perfect, it still manages to keep viewers fully engaged in the characters' lives, and keeps even casual visitors to Potter's world mesmerized by fantastic special effects and wild action scenes.
Yes, the missing story lines from the original book accumulate to form a gaping chasm—but that's only when compared directly to the book. The production team had to make some unfortunate cuts, but the movie does manage to hit the major plot points, effectively setting up audiences for the continuing story.
My only point of contention is a few unnecessary changes that were not needed to save time—including the use of spells that are very pointedly introduced in the sixth book (yes, I am that much of a geek.) And, please, where is St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries?
This movie moves very, very fast and might be tough to follow for those not versed in the ways of Potter. But if you have even the faintest idea of who's who, you'll be fine.
It's important to remember this film is an entity separate from the book, and is a much darker film than the last four. It's set at the verge of war, and the opposing sides are each recruiting followers. Harry is treated as a pariah who lied about the return of Lord Voldemort. Add to that the fact Harry is now a 15-year-old, hormonal teenager, and you get one moody little wizard.
From the opening scenes, it's clear that Harry's world has changed: In the middle of a drought-weary London suburb, Harry and his rotund cousin are attacked by dementors, inhuman creatures who devour happiness.
Yates, best known for his BBC documentary work, brings a gritty style to the film while managing to connect it to the rest of the franchise (unlike Alfonso Cuaron, who directed Prisoner of Azkaban.) A darkness envelops the entire film, like an ever-present reminder of the harsh realities that lie just around the corner.
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint reprise their roles as Harry and his best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Joining them is a veritable A-list of British actors, from Ralph Fiennes, whose strangely asexual Lord Voldemort is as mesmerizing as it is disturbing, to Alan Rickman's Severus Snape. Every eyebrow raise and sneer drips with contempt, yet Rickman manages to let the audience know that Snape is much more complex than what comes at face value.
Other notable performances come from Gary Oldman as Harry's outlaw godfather Sirius Black, as well as Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson and Jason Isaacs. Not a bad cast if you can get it.
As with the rest of the Harry Potter series, this film is still entertaining, while speaking to broader issues: the dangers of government control and failing to think for yourself.
Yes, people are going to find faults with this film, but it is still fun, exciting, visually dramatic and full of great performances.