(Part 6) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Order of the Phoenix saw a fourth and final director at the helm of the Potter franchise and luckily the end result is a much more interesting and mature offering than its lacklustre predecessor. Harking back to the dark foreboding that engulfed The Prisoner of Azkaban, director David Yates does a great job of explaining the rapidly progressing Potter story. After the lull of Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix returns the focus squarely back to Voldemort and his quest to kill Harry. Yates captures the sense of impending doom perfectly and also delivers arguably the series’ best action sequence so far in an exhilarating wand battle in the Ministry of Magic. There is also one of the hardest hitting moments thus far in all the Potter films as a much loved character and valued member of the Order Expectoes his last Patronum. *BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT COMING UP LATER ON*.
The movie starts with an even surlier than usual Harry saving his cousin Dudley’s life after the two of them are set upon by dementors. After illegally using his magic in front of a muggle in order to ward the dementors off, Harry promptly receives a letter from the Ministry informing him of his expulsion from Hogwarts. Cue even more surliness and teenage angst. Soon he is visited by Mad-Eye Moody and other members of the Order of the Phoenix – an organisation set up by Dumbledore to combat Voldemort – and they inform Harry that the Ministry of Magic is in denial over Voldermort’s return. Furthermore, a smear campaign has been launched against Harry in the Daily Prophet, a newspaper heavily influenced by the Ministry.
Amidst rumours at The Ministry that Dumbledore is planning a revolt against them, Delores Umbridge, one of their senior officials, is appointed as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher to keep an eye on things. Inevitably, she begins to wield more and more power at the school, stamping the Ministry’s will on its day-to-day running. In response to the strict rules put in place by Umbridge and the Ministry, Harry and his merry band set up a secret society called Dumbledore’s Army in order to train the young wizards to defend themselves. After weeks of clandestine training, the army gets uncovered by Umbridge and her Slytherin minions and Dumbledore is forced to flee before he is arrested.
Meanwhile, Harry is afflicted with haunting dreams of Order members being attacked by an unseen assailant who we can only assume is Voldemort. Firstly, he sees Arthur Weasley being attacked at the Ministry and, upon reporting the incident to Dumbledore; we discover the attack was more than just a dream. It would appear that Harry has some form of emotional bond with Voldemort which allows him to share his vision. After this incident, when Harry next dreams of Sirius Black being similarly attacked at the Ministry, he and the extended gang (not just Ron and Hermione this time but also the ‘B’ team of Neville, Luna and Ginny too) race to the Ministry to help.
Once there, they are cornered by Voldemort’s minions who include Lucius Malfoy and Sirius Black’s demented cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange. It turns out the vision of Sirius was merely a ruse to lure Harry to the Ministry in order to lead Vol’s Death Eaters to a special prophecy kept there in storage which is of special importance to the dark one. A battle ensues between Dumbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters and soon all but HP are taken hostage. Just as Harry is about to hand over the prophecy in exchange for the lives of his friends, members of the Order of the Phoenix show up to take on the Death Eaters. In the midst of battle *BIG MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*…….
…….Bellatrix kills Sirius. An enraged Harry manages to corner Bellatrix but Big Vol turns up before he can get his revenge. Just when it looks like Harry himself is a goner, Dumbledore turns up to do battle with the dark lord.
Order of the Phoenix sees Harry at his most agitated yet. At the outset we see him swinging mournfully on a swing, lonelier than he’s ever been. The death of Cedric and the return of Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire are clearly weighing heavily on his young shoulders. Throughout the film Harry spends a great deal of time snapping at people, be it Malfoy (you’d have thought he’d be used to that jerk by now) or, more noticeably, Dumbledore. The pressure of fame is beginning to take its toll on our young hero. Harry’s brief moments of happiness in this film come when he takes on the role of tutor and spends time with his friends teaching them how to defend themselves. The theme of friendship and the power of love is clearly an important one in the Potter saga and it’s well demonstrated here as the young wizards all band together. Harry grows to rely ever more on his friends and they too begin to stand up and be counted and recognise that they need to do their bit to combat Big Vol.
As I said in the introduction, the ominous tone of Azakaban is very much back for Part 5. The opening dementor attack on Harry and Dudley sees the director set his stall out nice and early as Yates shows he won’t shirk away from portraying the danger which Potter faces at every turn. He then follows this up with a haunting moment where Harry is daydreaming of Platform 9 ¾ and suddenly sees Voldemort waiting for him next to the Hogwarts Express as the rest of the public shuffle past oblivious to any danger. A telling scene, not only as it shows Harry’s unavoidable connection with Voldemort, but also because it hints at his frustration with the Ministry and elements of the wizarding world that refuse to acknowledge the dark one’s return. It’s a great shot and probably one of my favourite moments from the franchise as a whole.
The character who perhaps makes the biggest impact on proceedings in Order of the Phoenix comes in the unlikely guise of Delores Umbridge. Played perfectly by Imelda Staunton, Umbridge comes across as a demonic blend of Maggie Thatcher and Hyacinth Bucket. On the outside she is a sweet and cheerful older woman, complete with pink teapot warmer and pictures of cats. On the inside however, she is, for want of a better term, a cold-hearted mega-bitch. She is a Ministry hardliner who refuses to accept Vol’s return and is convinced that Dumbledore is planning a rebellion. At the Ministry’s insistence, she is named the new Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher, which figures. Even I can’t blame Dumbledore for this cock up though, after all, this one was thrust upon him against his will. Umbridge clearly cares little for the laws governing corporal punishment in schools as she forces Harry to write out lines with a special pen which carves the lines into the writer’s hand. Let’s just go over that again. A government official, forces a teenage boy to self harm, whilst they sit there smiling and sipping a cup of tea. This is pretty dark stuff and it’s made all the more sinister by the fact it is carried out by a twinkly eyed old lady.
Umbridge comes to represent the Orwellian presence of the Ministry of Magic at Hogwarts. As the influence of the MOM intensifies and the onslaught of Education Decrees takes up ever increasing room on the hallway walls, the sense of rebellion and the need for a student action only increases. The idea of Dumbledore’s Army (which, lest we forget, was so named without his permission…a little bit presumptuous!) as revolutionary freedom fighters rallying against the oppressive state machinery is a great addition to the Potter saga and the air of defiance amongst the students really begins to take shape. The movie also furthers the disturbing fascist undertones that began with talk of purebloods and mudbloods in previous entries. Here it is depicted via the draconian state control over all aspects of daily life at Hogwarts. Issues such as governmental control of the media and secret informants fingering their friends for the greater good are further evidence of this Orwellian influence on the Potter universe.
Naturally, in order to fully realise total Ministry control over Hogwarts, Umbridge needs to recruit some insiders to do her bidding, some evil, malevolent drones who will hunt out Dumbledore’s Army with extreme prejudice. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd cue Malfoy. Everyone’s favourite Aryan Panto Villain is back once again to strut about being generally mean and horrible to all he meets.
One thing I do have to give Umbridge credit for though is finally forcing the kids at Hogwarts to do some real work and take there OWL exams. Ohhhhhh they’re in uproar now aren’t they. “You expect us to actually do revision and learn important information that doesn’t involve doing magic…..that’s so unfair.” Listen up Hogwartians (Hogwartites? Hogwartanians? ….whatever), learning how to torture a spider and read tea leaves is all well and good, but a grounding in algebra, Shakespeare, the origins of the first World War and coastal erosion may still come in handy one day. At least a few of you will end up in a boring admin job wondering what went wrong with your promising wizarding career and when that happens, you’ll be glad Umbridge made you take some actual exams. I am well aware that it is entirely possible that these OWL exams are themselves predominantly magic based. I am however clinging to the assumption that old Delores would have enough sense to force the kids to widen their knowledge beyond the occult. As evil as she may be, she finally got a bit of discipline in that school.
Another quality addition to the cast is Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange. All those years of generic Tim Burton gothic has finally paid off as she throws herself into the role and pulls of a demented, cackling and merciless witch to a tee.
The closing battle scenes at the MOM are truly superb to watch. Since the first film, fans had been holding out for a full on magic battle and that is exactly what we get here. The Death Eaters Vs The Order of the Phoenix. The fast paced wandplay (it’s a word) creates a thrilling set piece and director David Yates deserves credit for making these scenes as exciting as they were. The death of such an important character is also brilliantly handled and the intense anguish on Harry’s face really hits home. I’d go as far as to say that this scene is also the most touching moment of the franchise so far. The destructive face-off between Dubledore and Vol is spectacular, though I do feel sorry for the poor bugger who has to tidy up all that shattered glass afterwards.
The Order of the Phoenix sees a triumphant return to the style of Prisoner of Azkaban and develops the broader story whilst ramping up the anti-establishment angle. The power of the Ministry, which is so all-consuming for so much of the film, becomes seriously diminished as they are forced to concede both Voldemort’s return and the innocence of Dumbledore and Harry. Suddenly they seem very ineffectual after their domineering antics at Hogwarts. The battle is left up to the Order and their young recruits.