Reviewers across the world will be sinking their teeth into Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix over the next few days, but don’t let the early Rotten Tomatoes score [EDIT: It was at about 90% when this was written, and has fallen below 70% as of Monday Evening] fool you: this film will likely end up dividing critics more than any other in the series. Why? Well, the reviews are going to fall into two camps:
Those who embrace the film’s anti-authoritarian, traditional film plot, and those who wanted to see more whimsical Quidditch matches and other such magic.
On the side of the more traditional film plot, we’ve got a few reviewers who are actually labeling the film the best yet:
Another mystery–whether a new director (David Yates) and scriptwriter (Michael Goldenberg) can build on the intelligent urgency of the past two Potter films–is cleared up in the first few minutes as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) performs some impromptu magic to save an ugly Muggle. The confrontation is swift, vivid, scary and, to the audience, assuring: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be a good one. Perhaps the best in the series, it turns out. The tone and palette are darker, the characters more desperate and more determined. Playtime is over; childhood is a distant memory or just a dream. For Harry and his friends, it’s time to grow up and fight Voldemort or surrender to him.
There’s a new humanity to the story now. The fact that that Yates will start filming Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince in September is good news indeed. For it’s Yates, following Rowling’s lead, who lets the shadows invade life at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where computer-generated elves, talking spiders and losing a Quidditch match are the least of Harry’s problems. A sense of foreboding gives the film a pulse-quickening urgency.
Harry’s days of coming-of-age are officially over when he becomes the ambivalent leader of a revolution at Hogwarts after an opportunist Professor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton – “Vera Drake”) is appointed to usurp power. Yates tosses in dashes of snappy thematic touches from films like “1984,” “Brazil” and even “The Exorcist,” to create a subtext-rich visual palate for a narrative that compartmentalizes sentimentality into a handheld crystal ball.
These reviews are viewing the film, really, as its own story outside of the context of the series. This is the first film to really expand into, as Smithey notes, resonant themes of non-fantasy films to really capture a more traditional sense of filmmaking.
But not everyone is convinced. Some, it seems, are still looking for that magical quidditch game and those care-free days within their Harry Potter series.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
This is the fifth — and longest at 800 pages — book on which a “Harry Potter” film has been based. Consequently, this is a movie that feels like a reunion in a train station, in which even more characters get introduced and old friends revisited, making for a bewildering array of personages to keep track of even for those paying close attention. Then there is the fact that this book — and movie — is a watershed of backstory, revelations and plot clarifications before heading into the two remaining chapters. So while “Phoenix” is a necessary film, it’s quite possibly the least enjoyable of the lot so far.
From Sci-Fi Movie Page:
Order of the Phoenix is still “dark”, but it doesn’t let audiences’ imaginations soar as the previous two films did. Maybe it is because an aura of familiarity hangs over the proceedings (Harry has yet another climactic magical battle with Voldemort, but we are spared the regular Quidditch match). Perhaps the fault lies with new director Yates’ workman-like approach.
These two reviews are not so quick to forgive that lack of “magic” and imagination. This book does signal a serious change for the series, as it is entirely about the loss of that imagination. Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter is the only “rotten” review thus far, but I expect there will be others from reviewers who feel that the series is getting too dark, and lacking its original magic. But other critics clearly feel that that darkness has allowed a more mature narrative to develop. One that is, despite taking place within a fantasy universe, a distinctly real world one.
How will fans and other reviewers react? The film opens on Wednesday, and reviews will start pouring out over the next few days. So stay tuned.