James Kirkham's Review
Each excursion to a Harry Potter movie brings with it a mix of giddy excitement and the background concern of an impending disappointment. This is not to say that the films are not enjoyable or commendable, simply that they cannot contend with the quality of the books and as such inevitably leave you unfulfilled. The Order of the Phoenix is unable to break the mould and, whilst ultimately better than its predecessor The Goblet of Fire, it is conspicuously poor in its own way.
The first two films, both directed by Chris Columbus, introduced us delightfully into this magical world and each made for a vastly enjoyable family movie. Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban led us into more adult territory and is the most atmospheric Potter film to date, delicately flavoured with artistic touches and benefiting from a swiftly improving young cast. Goblet of Fire, probably the most enjoyable book so far, suffered from a severe lack of spirit in the transition to screen as sadly Mike Newell span out a by the numbers rendition of the more obvious plot points, never really capturing a feeling for the world or story. David Yates, therefore, was entrusted with bringing the magic back to Harry Potter and thankfully, he has done so. Indeed, it is not in direction that Phoenix lacks, rather in running time.
This is the shortest of the movies so far at 138 minutes, and it certainly feels like it. Rowling's fifth novel, many have suggested, had not a lot going on. It built up nicely to the final two books but reserved relatively little for itself given the seriously large page count. Which would suggest that Yates and his writers would have the enviable task of converting the bones of the novel into a truly effective film. How they missed the mark on this is hard to say. Gone is the high emotion of Arthur's attack at the ministry, and with it any appearance of St. Mungo's. The much heralded final battle at the Ministry, lauded by many, left me cold. Brief and unsatisfying would be an apt description, especially as the rest of the plot seemed rushed in an effort to make the climax a real event. The Weasley twins' triumphant departure from their educational careers lacks the thrill of the book telling. These are key, stand out moments in the novel that hold great anticipation so the failure to replicate them to a satisfactory, let alone remarkable level will take some forgiving.
Some of the most interesting characters are disastrously marginalised. Lupin and Moody barely get a line between them and every other member of the Order (and indeed the Death Eaters) could do with more time, time given over too much to the new villain, Delores Umbridge. Whilst nothing is added that doesn't appear in the book, and the character is well acted by Imelda Staunton, its shame that a film otherwise so frugal with its time can treat a single, albeit central, character with such devotion at the great cost of others that frankly, most would prefer to be watching.
There are many plusses, however. Yates' direction regains the spirit of pre-Newell films and brings its own style, evident from the opening scenes at Little Whinging. Nothing feels superfluous as he keeps up the pace, cleverly limiting the exposition to brief images and nods to the book. He has earned a second try with The Half Blood Prince, and hopefully he will be given more space to breathe. The effects, bar the cartoonish Grawp, look appropriately magical. The casting is as ever spot on with the aforementioned Staunton nailing Umbridge, George Harris briefly pleasing as Kingsley Shacklebolt and Natalia Tenia providing a sexy, effervescent Tonks. The standout, however, is Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, the best thing in the film. She doesn't act Luna, she is Luna as anyone who has seen her interviewed will tell you. She's an airy delight, effortlessly convincing and very encouraging for the final two instalments.
Of course there is also Katie Leung's Cho Chang, another who struggles to build any sort of character with such limited screen time. Perhaps too much was made of Harry's first kiss as it seems somewhat tacked on, incongruous, a necessary event squeezed in where it felt inconsequential. A particular plot point is thrust onto Cho in opposition to the book, presumably to raise her profile but more importantly it seems as yet another time cutting measure.
So my main gripe centres around the fact that there simply is not enough running time to produce the movie we all want, which extends to all of the films. I have not looked at the films in their own right as perhaps some would. But why should we, when we all know and love the books so much and cannot avoid a comparison? There is a simple solution which has sadly come too late for the first five film adaptations and in turn will surely not be extended to the final two. Peter Jackson et al had the same problem in adapting the Lord of the Rings into three films; long runtimes make little financial sense and ask too much of the audience. However, they are ideally suited to DVD and the films were improved markedly with the extended edition releases. Surely this would be apt to the Potter films? I do not know why this approach has not been adopted but the Harry Potter franchise is poorer in every way for it.