Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

"Dementors in Little Whingeing. What next?"

I really wish these Harry Potter films wouldn't keep getting darker and darker. I miss the fun of the first one. Still, this film is an improvement on the last one and an entertaining viewing, at least. 

We begin with the world of magic infiltrating the normal world of the "Muggles", a potent concept, and with temperature still being referred to in terms of Fahrenheit in spite of the fact that it's the twenty-first century. Harry is expelled, sort of, for portending his unpleasant step-brother from a Dementors but, as he's Very Important, the rules do not apply to him in the same way as they apply to us plebs. Professor Moody comes to his defence, and he's an impressive figure to have on one's side, being the only Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher to retain his post from film to film.

Harry is inducted into the Order of the Phoenix, which no doubt also contains many senior police officers. The word "Witangemot" gets bandied about, which is cool. Things are ominous, and the armies of good and evil are being raised against each other.

There follows a sequence of fun scenes, as Ron's dad discusses Muggles from an anthropological point of view and there's an exciting chase sequence with much CGI and many London landmarks. Harry is tried by a kangaroo court, set up by the increasingly sinister Ministry of Magic. He is lucky to be acquitted, but the mood remains uneasy as school starts and we are introduced to the eccentric and mysterious Luna Lovegood.

The school is gradually taken over by the Gradgrindian tyrant Dolores Umbridge, a tool of the Ministry of Magic played delightfully by Imelda Staunton. Her increasingly stifling rules and regulations slowly weaken the school, banning creativity and teaching to the test in a barbed comment on contemporary British education. When she forces Harry to do lines, in his own blood, on his own skin, we know full well that she's a baddie, and a good one. This is the best film in the series since the first one.

Umbridge is soon appointed "High Inquisitor" to address "seriously falling standards", and much damage is done. The delightfully eccentric Professor Trelawney is sacked on grounds that are pure Gradgrind. There's a mood of paranoia, and Harry one more needs to be reminded that even heroes need help from their friends, even after Dumbledore has been sacked and things look very bleak.

Harry gathers together a resistance movement and trains them in secret, in scenes which seem to have their allegorical roots on political tyranny rather than anything educational. Harry gets a kiss under the Mistletoe, but term ends on an uneasy note.

Snape, everyone's favourite red herring, tells Harry that Voldemort has a mental link with him, and attempts to teach him resistance. Harry, though, is worried about similarities between Voldemort and himself. It is Sirius who has the words of wisdom: "We all have light and dark inside of us. What matters is what we choose to act upon. That's who we really are."

The new term is no better; the sexy but nasty Belletrix Lestrange is one the use, and Harry's little gang is stitched up by snitches, as a result of which Dumbledore is sent to Azkaban. Things seem to have reached rock bottom. All this is rather effective.

Hogwarts by this point resembles Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. And Snape remains unfriendly to Harry- because, we learn, he was bullied by Harry's dad. Ouch. 

There is, yet again, a final battle, in which Harry, being all heroic and that, refuses the  temptation to kill Bellatrix. Everything is ok afterwards, arguably a little too quickly to be plausible, and all is as it was. We learn of a prophecy about Voldemort and Harry: one must kill the other...

That's more like it. I hope the next film maintains the quality.

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