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Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I went to a midnight showing of the new Harry Potter flick last night with Jen. I did a midnight showing for the Goblet of Fire when it came out two years ago. It was mostly a good time. The crowd was excited, but controlled. And the movie was good. Not as good as Prisoner of Azkaban, but very well done, and exciting. But last night something was different. Maybe it's just that seeing a midnight showing of a Potter movie in the Edina suburb of Minneapolis means that most of the crowd is white-bread kids who enjoy one-upping each other on how excited they are over Hermione and Ron getting it on. Maybe it's just that I'd been up since 6:30 that morning and I'm getting too old to go to midnight shows. Whatever it was, my first impression of Order of the Phoenix was somewhat surprising, even to me:

Utterly underwhelming.

Just to get it out of the way, I’ve not ready any of the Harry Potter books. Honestly, I think I had a better opinion of the movie than anyone who had. According to some testimony from my fellow movie-goers, the movie completely missed the mark on recreating the narrative from the book. So, I’m not even going to speak to any inconsistencies with the source material.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

If you haven’t read the books, or seen the movie, then you’ll want to stop reading here, because I will make references to key plot elements.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

But even evaluating the movie in its own right, I was not all that impressed. I expect entertainment media like movies, novels and video games to draw me in. Maybe it was the fact that the girls to my left kept squealing, but I found it very hard to really be absorbed in the story that was unfolding on the screen. Dolores Umbridge, the dictator in pink, makes life a living hell for the students at Hogwarts, and she does an outstanding job of eliciting pure, unadulterated rage from those of us who have a particular distaste for oppressive regimes. Likewise, the refusal of Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, to acknowledge the return of He Who Shall Not Be Named, was equally frustrating, and produced a bad taste in mouth similar to whenever I see footage of Alberto Gonzales before the Senate. Problem is, I didn’t really feel bad for the other characters, so much as an extreme hatred for Umbridge and Fudge, who was were so resolute in their ignorance and hatred that they couldn’t help but invoke, in my mind, images of the Klan and Hitler.

On that note, ultimately the movie failed to make me really care what happened to the characters at all. The character development was weak at best, and felt forced and unnatural at its worst. And honestly, the whole movie felt that way. All of the emotions that Daniel Radcliffe was supposed to be conveying as the deeply troubled Harry Potter felt, well, acted. Scripted. Fake. It’s why I couldn’t muster more than a shallow smile as Umbridge’s newly-appointed enforcers (namely, Draco Malfoy and those jerk-offs from Slytherin) were continually thwarted as they attempted to discover where Dumbledore’s Army was practicing Dark Arts defense magic. That’s why I failed to care when Umbridge forced the students to write with quills that burned moral absolutes into the flesh of their hands. It’s why I barely even noticed when Sirius Black bit the dust. Shouldn’t I have felt at least a shimmer of sorrow as he faded into the mist? Probably. But I didn’t, and that’s not my fault. It’s the job of the filmmakers to make me empathize with Potter’s grief and rage.

Not too mention that there were plot elements that were never explained in their entirety, although I suppose that could be chalked up to the fact that the book is over 800 pages long. But come on, why hasn't Draco Malfoy been questioned about his father's involvement with Voldemort? Why is his father hanging at the Ministry of Magic like he wasn't there the night Cedric was killed?

I think the worst part of the whole experience is that often the audience would burst into laughter or delighted squeals at seemingly random moments. I was often confused and distracted by their emotional response. Every awkward silence between the characters was apparently meant to be a joke. And Ron getting jealous about a mindless giant taking a childlike fascination with Hermione, and weakly shouting, “leave her alone,? means that they’re finally going to make babies or something, even though their love-affair is nowhere to be found in the books, and their characters are supposed to be 15 years-old. It’s as if the audience really, really wanted to love this movie, so they forced the laughs and the screams, just so they could tell their friends how super awesome the movie was and OMG! you have to go see it because Harry kisses Cho! With tongue and everything!

Look, in spite of all this criticism, I’m not saying that this movie isn’t worth your time. It was entertaining, albeit at a somewhat superficial level (i.e., the magic battles were pretty sweet). Then again, maybe it’s just because I was a tired, grumpy old man last night. But I wouldn’t want you to go into this movie with grandiose expectations just to be let down. Expect a movie somewhere between the gearing up of the series that Chamber of Secrets was, and the slick action of Goblet of Fire, and you’ll be in the right mindset to watch this film.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars - A better than average entry for the series, but not great, and certainly not as outstanding as Prisoner of Azkaban.

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