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Evil Forces Rise in “Order of the Phoenix”

Tae Andrews | Monday, September 3, 2007

At the time of its release in hardcover form, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” marked the darkest installment of the blockbuster book series to date, and its big screen counterpart is no different.

“Order of the Phoenix” features an angrier and darker Boy Who Lived, well into his teenage years and with brooding mood spells (in addition to his many other ones) and lots of scowls to match.

Between getting temporarily expelled from school, rustling up a student army to combat the forces of evil and practicing his Patronus charm (not to mention appearing in the buff in a London play), Harry also finds time to snog the beautiful Cho Chang. Yes, it’s true: The Boy Who Lived is growing up.

Unfortunately, the film has a rushed feel to it, which is probably due more to the sprawling nature of J.K. Rowling’s massive tome than to any fault on the part of first-time Potter director David Yates, who manages to handle the challenging material quite well.

Unlike Rowling, who has enjoyed carte blanche and unlimited pulp in which to flourish her magic wand and script out the spell of the Harry Potter story, Yates has considerably less room to play with, and he does well with limited film reel.

Ironically enough for a rushed film, “Order of the Phoenix” also clocks in at over two hours of running time, proof of the massive amount of ground Yates needed to cover with his movie.

The strength of “The Order of the Phoenix” is its cast, which once again puts in excellent work. In addition to the staple performers we’ve come to know and love, such as Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as the increasingly attractive Hermione, “Order of the Phoenix” also features a talented trio of first-time female characters to the film series.

Imelda Staunton is perfect for the part of Dolores Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who takes over control of Hogwarts with her syrupy sweet manners, love for all things pink and creepy cohort of pet cats. With every simpering smile, she redefines the image of pure evil.

Evanna Lynch introduces herself as the vaguely creepy, vaguely unnerving and extremely unsettling Luna Lovegood, who becomes one of Harry’s new friends and is quite possibly the most bizarre character in the entire series – even one featuring goblins, broomsticks and magic wands.

Helena Bonham Carter shines in a dark light as the unstable and unkempt Bellatrix Lestrange, as evil a witch as ever there was, cackling and unleashing foul magic with maniacal glee after her Death Eater pals spring her from the wizard prison of Azkaban.

Alan Rickman continues to excel as Severus Snape, one of the series’ most complex and intriguing characters. He handles the role with perfect sneer and disdain, and continues to tightrope walk the ambiguous line with great balance. Although he sees limited action this time around, rumor has it he’ll have a feature focus in the next film.

Gary Oldman rocks on again as Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, back in black to fight Voldemort and his forces of evil.

On the other side of the magical aisle, Ralph Fiennes puts in another solid performance as the serpentine He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort, who slithers around with his typical evil antics, waving wands around and generally inflicting dark deeds upon the wizarding world.

Thanks to the wide world of special effects and computer-generated imagery, the movie magic onscreen manages to capture the imagination of the books quite well. In particular, the battle between the Death Eaters (featuring very KKK-esque pointy hoods) and the Order of the Phoenix, the wizard equivalent of a showdown at high noon, comes across as an awesome clash between the forces of good and the minions of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

From start to finish, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” serves as another good installment in the developing film series. Five down, two to go.