Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Reviewing any Harry Potter media is hard. I'm not implying the text is like James Joyce's Ulysses, rather that it's so immersive you forget to come up for air. Like many Potter fans, I read the first four books in about 2 hours and I certainly didn't underline important passages. So when it comes to the movies, my central question is whether the director was able to at least keep up with the excitement of Rowling's writing. Alfonso Cuarón did a great job with Azkaban and Mike Newell didn't do so hot with Goblet of Fire, neither of which are shocking revelations. The Order of the Phoenix is another tall order and expectations are impossibly high. Still, all the production team really has to do is Not Screw It Up.
Like the huge tome that is Goblet of Fire, director David Yates has the difficult task of condensing a lot of plot, little of which is fluff, into a feature-length film. In this volume Harry is forced to act older than his years and convince his classmates that evil Lord Voldemort has returned and will definitely bring the pain. Since the wizard world's governing body, the Ministry of Magic, is gung-ho about convincing the world Harry is a liar and a fraud, our young hero takes matters into his own hands. When the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the Ministry's Dolores Umbridge, won't teach them anything useful, Harry rounds up a dozen or so like-minded students to prepare themselves for Voldemort's inevitable attack.
While Voldemort is still Harry's nemesis, Dolores Umbridge is the true villain in the Order and she steals the show. Not that Voldemort isn't a scary dude, but I have more memories of prim and proper teachers with a mean streak than I do of recently disembodied dark wizards with nose-less faces.
The questions remains, did Yates Screw It Up? The action scenes were gripping and the side story about Harry's love life was a blast, but the movie just felt like it was missing something. No, I'm not concerned about the lack of quidditch, rather that the pace of the film was far too consistent. Even during the final battle scene I found myself no more engaged than I was during the earliest conversations about extendable ears. My level of engagement was high throughout, but there was no arc, no crescendo. It's possible having read 6 books and seen 4 movies or watching this at midnight on a Tuesday made it difficult to experience the Order as Yates would like, but there are hundreds of thousands in the same boat.
Despite my grievance, you should still see this movie because Yates may have come in a little under par, but he didn't Screw It Up. Billions of dollars later, J.K. Rowling and her stubborn wizard crew prevails again.