Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates, 2007)
Mirrors, memories and magic are the ingredients to this latest movie adaptation of J. K. Rowling's popular series of novels. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), that boy-wizard we first saw trying to fit in Hogwarts' crew of magically-inclined professors and students, has grown up to be an angry, angry boy. His parents killed when he was a baby, his witnessing the death of a friend and the return of Voldemort (a nose-less and reptilian Ralph Fiennes), his unbearably hot summer with frequent taunting by mama's boy-turned-faux gangster cousin --- all these and more have turned Potter pale and reclusive. His return to Hogwarts doesn't help either; there, he's seen as a fraud and a rabble-rouser.
David Yates' The Order of the Phoenix is dark and dreary. There's a lot less juvenilia on display (although there are frequent fireworks and magically-propelled origami). Instead, Yates drapes the walls of Hogwarts with fascist rules and announcement; the worst of them is the institution of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as Grand Inquisitor of the magic school, thus ending all forms of fun and freedom and replacing them with interrogations, painful punishments, and facile smiles and giggles.
We get a glimpse of the Ministry of Magic compound --- a fine example of urban hustle and bustle with stock-trading goblins, floo-transported witches and wizards and governmental posters in larger-than-life reproduction magically draped in the walls. The bureaucratic government starts invading on the daily grind of these beloved young wizards as response to the widespread paranoia brought about by Harry's news of Voldemort's return. Umbridge, media (utilizing the Daily Prophet, the magic community's source of news and announcements), the forming of an underground defensive army (the titular Order) against both Voldemort and the government's forced blindness --- there's something that's no longer juvenile brewing in the world of witches and wizards.
Harry spends a lot of time dreaming, remembering, and looking at himself in the mirror. The book and the film's thrust is the supposed connection between Harry and Voldemort; and this fleshes out themes of identity coinciding with Harry's awkward stage of maturity --- no longer delegated to formal ceremonies like balls, parties, and courting but more in tune with reality (misapplied hormones, emotions, and that persistent need to matter). Radcliffe does a good job in fleshing out these teenage internalizations; and he does keep up with the bevy of British thespians lending their hand in enriching these adaptations of Britain's most popular books.
It reminded me of Alfonso Cuaron's brilliant and brisk adaptation of The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004); wherein the doldrum narrative serves as the background to Cuaron's distinct understanding of the characters' dilemmas. Yates doesn't quite achieve that height of blockbuster poetry that Cuaron so easily weaves, but he comes close --- definitely closer than Chris Columbus and Mike Newell's mechanical attempts for blank spectacle. I always thought Rowling as a poor storyteller; her books get longer and more complicated to the detriment of narrative ease.
Yates and writer Michael Goldenberg (who also adapted Peter Pan (P. J. Hogan, 2003) with complete with its sexual subtleties) do a great job in compressing Rowling's tome into a two hour-plus extravaganza; with its share of inconsistent wrinkles (that subplot with the CGI-created giant) and show stopping set pieces (the final fifteen minutes are a vast improvement to Rowling's incomprehensible climax). The performances are good; standouts include Staunton (whose Umbridge is the sort of governmental dog we love to hate), Helena Bonham-Carter (whose short stint as a crazed witch is fabulous; watch out for her subtle facial nuances near the end wherein lucidity and illucidity are mixed up flawlessly), and Gary Oldman (who comes back as Sirius Black with a touch of paternal grace to his orphaned godson). Overall, this is a more than satisfying summer film --- easy on the eyes, and complex enough to be appreciated in a different level other than mere entertainment.