I was able to catch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last Friday, even though the Glorietta 4 was crowded with the weekend movie mobs. As with the John Rambo principle, one can go where armies can't... it was a spur of the moment decision to watch, so why not. So, with a bag of Wendy's tucked under my arm, I went into the theater and watched the latest Potter flick.
Picking up right after Goblet of Fire, OOTP sees Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) ruled by dark moods. Wracked by guilt due to Cedric Diggory's death and haunted by mysterious, frightful dreams that seem ripped from Voldemort's twisted mind itself, Harry's feeling more and more alone, hostile and hopeless. It doesn't help matters that the Ministry of Magic has suddenly taken an unexpected move to deny the return of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and discredit both Harry and Albus Dumbledore. Even worse, Harry finds himself isolated from the Headmaster of Hogwarts, just in the time that he needs the great wizard's help and advice the most. Now he's being torn apart from within by Voldemort, and from without by Hogwart's new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and this chapter's resident villainess, Dolores Umbridge (played to evil perfection by Imelda Staunton). With the hero at his most vulnerable, the only hope to stave off forces of dark magic lie with Harry's true friends, and with the mysterious group of wizards known as The Order of the Phoenix.
This latest Potter is very different from previous chapters; there's not as much wonder and fun as before (though director David Yates still injects whimsy and humor every so often, thankfully), and not a Quidditch match in sight. This is all about the students of Hogwarts banding together and friends hanging tough in the scariest of times, and keeping true even when the person you love doesn't seem to want your help. Even though their roles are noticeably smaller, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) are at their most refreshingly earnest and natural in this chapter. Ron isn't so much the bumbling fool and more of a staunch friend and ally, while Hermione gets to act against the rules and be a bit of a rebel. Even better, the other students of Hogwarts get to shine, with Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) and the elder Weasley Twins Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) getting lots of screen time. While Cho Chang (Katie Leung) has her little (but surprisingly wet) kiss with Harry, she eventually turns out to be a dud character (though her 'fall' softened from the books, as I gather), a pleasant surprise is newcomer Evanna Lynch as the quirky Luna Lovegood. Able to reach the moody Harry and establish a bond through their shared experiences, Luna is a wonderful addition to the core band of Hogwart's Heroes.
As for the rest of the cast, it's the same familiar and comfy cast as always, and each is still as set in their roles as before, though many get pretty short screentime. Michael Gambon gives another strong performance as an oddly vulnerable Dumbledore, while Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonnagall gets cross swords with Umbridge in defense of the school. Other faculty like Hagrid (Robby Coltrane) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) get shorter, but no less sweet scenes. Outside of Hogwarts, it's great to see returning faces like Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Mad-eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) and of course, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) surface as members of The Order of the Phoenix- Dumbledore's rag-tag resistance fighters against Voldermort's Death Eaters.
OOTP is certainly the shortest of the Potter flicks, moving quickly from the in-school rebellion and formation of Dumbledore's Army to a pretty flashy finale- a properly creepy and atmospheric foray into an aptly-named Department of Secrets, culminating in a Wizard Battle between the Order and the Death Eaters, and an impressive duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort. But sadly, like most middle chapters, it's all ultimately setup for the final battle yet to come. I haven't read the actual book, but the movie struck me as well-paced and tight, without any extraneous or missing bits. Perhaps if I read the book I'd be displeased with some omissions, but as it is I am pleased with the movie's conciseness.
The effects are the usual Potter- which is to say, they're brilliant. It's all just toned a bit darker this time around, as things get serious and the stakes get higher- a lot higher. Easily the darkest of Potters (even with the already melancholy ending of Goblet), this nevertheless got a smile from me at the end. I liked it. I liked it quite a lot, and it just gets me wanting to grab the last three books (all of which I haven't read) and raring for the next film. I just have to say to the studios- keep your cast safe and happy. The core trio of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson MUST end this series together at the very least. I don't care how much money they have to throw at those kids. It's just magic when this cast comes together.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is now showing in Metro Manila theaters. Jump on your broom and zoom off to watch it now.