Lowdown: Yet another Potter film that still thinks it's a book.
The Harry Potter films so far have been a mixed bag. None were stellar performers: the first two, by Chris Colombus, were dreadful, being more like a collection of key scenes from the book than an attempt to create proper standalone films. The third film, however, was a step in the right direction, and the fourth wasn't bad either.
The question I was asking before watching Order of the Phoenix was this: Did they manage to make a decent film out of the worst book in the series thus far? (Actually, the sixth is the worst, so I'll have to ask that question again in a couple of years)
The answer, in short, is that the film is quite mediocre, recreating many of the first two's failures; it is, however, saved by its ongoing action, which manages to grip despite many moments where you wonder why the movie makers fail to just get a move on things.
Given people's sensitivity to revealing bits of the plot I won't say much about it other than that this film is supposed to tell the story of Harry Potter's fifth year in magic school. The main events this year seem to be a new and rather evil headmistress and a coalition of "good" students combining together for self studies in magical self defense. On top of that we get the regular dose of evil Voldemort, which is supposed to be the driver of the film, but as with the first two films it feels more like an afterthought.
When trying to analyze the source of the film's problems, it becomes obvious that it is in its insistence to replicate as much of the books as possible. Thing is, that is not a good way to create a film. The result is that in a film featuring dozens of unique characters with a lineup of star power quality actors that could run ten separate films, there is only one round character and a collection of others that have their short cameos and then dissaparate into oblivion. The only characters other than Potter that get something coming close to proper coverage are of Ron and Hermione, but given their quality of acting you wish it wasn't the case. Daniel Radcliffe (Potter), however, whose acting was suffering in previous efforts, seems to have become an acceptable actor at last; his mates may lag behind, but at last he's able to sustain a film.
So yes: sub plots come and go, you wonder what's going on and where the film is heading to, and then you finally get to this showdown scene with a baddie about whom you don't know much unless you read the books. That final scene, however, is quite the kick ass scene on an IMAX screen: some 30 minutes prior to the end of the film a sign alerts you to put your 3D glasses on, and from then to the end you're immersed in an action packed special effects extravaganza. It's stupid fun, but it's still wow!
The IMAX advantage is not only in that last 3D bit. The size and the quality of the picture make a huge difference on the impact this blockbuster makes, and for the better part of the film's first half hour I was chewing my popcorn in total awe. It is definitely worth making the trip to the IMAX theater if a film you want to watch is showing there!
Finally, is there any other positive thing to say about Order of the Phoenix to top the excitement and the presentation? There is. I really liked the way the new headmistress, Dolores Umbridge, was portrayed: It was a real demo case for portraying how nasty and evil people can be while still appearing polite and social. In real life you often encounter these people that drive you crazy and you can't say why; Umbridge embodies lots of those whys.
Finally, if there is anything the film is trying to say, it's a saying about the difference between good and evil. Potter is supposedly established as the good character, Voldemort as the ultimate evil (I'll ignore the film's problem of being quite bad at establishing the supporting characters for now). For some reason which you will only know if you read the books, both Potter and Voldemort have similar qualities; the result is that Potter is tormented, thinking he's also evil, only to be rescued at the end from his torments by yet another unestablished supporting character telling him he is different to Voldemort. Now, the reason I bringing this badly developed theme up is an article from August's Scientific American which looks at the Abu Ghraib Prison incidents in order to identify what it is that makes ordinary people become truly evil. The article's conclusions are different to Rowling's ones: Its conclusion is that we all have bad things in us and that it just takes something, often something special, to release that bad. No one person is inherently good or inherently evil; that clear division is something that can only happen in books/films about magical worlds.
Best scene: That 3D fight, of course, even if some of it was too much like Jedi fights.
Overall: A bad film that's exciting enough to merit 2.5 stars. However, the IMAX edge gives it 3 out of 5 stars.