Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The fifth entry in the Harry Potter series, this is the shortest of the films, yet it's based on the longest of J.K. Rowling's books. Which is interesting, and I might have more to say about that had I actually read any of the books. But as I haven't, I can only review Order of the Phoenix on whether it works as a film. And while I generally liked it, I found it a bit uneven.

This is the first Potter story to dispense with the usual "solve a puzzle" structure, opting instead to explore Harry's psyche and develop the mysterious relationship between the young wizard and his bete noir, the evil Lord Voldemort. Call it the Empire Strikes Back of the Potter saga. As such, it felt refreshing at first - and relatively unknown director Peter Yates brings some flashy new style to the franchise - but after seeing seemingly every guest star from the last two films make a rushed appearance, and having to endure a lengthy and rather tedious fight scene between a bunch of people with magic wands and loads of white CGI energy fields whooshing about, by film's end I found myself wishing for a stronger story.

The cast is good as always, Daniel Radcliffe's acting is becoming stronger as the ever-darkening storyline demands more of him, and the special effects are flawless as usual. But what I found most interesting in the film was a brief flashback that exposed the true relationship between Harry's late father and the oddball Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). It's such a fleeting moment, but the fact that it stands out indicates that the film needs more important story details like this.

I did enjoy the guest villain, played by the diminutive Imelda Staunton as the priggish, syrupy school administrator from hell. She is delightfully nasty, so loathsome yet so familiar - the chilly, stubborn bureaucrat we've all had to deal with at school, at work, at the DMV, and so on - and perhaps she's a surrogate for the arrogant, myopic idiots that have dominated American and British politics in the early 21st century. The liberal-minded Rowling wrote Order of the Phoenix in 2002, during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, so it's not a stretch to guess that current events had some influence on the author. The millions of protestors whose cries of "No Blood for Oil" were soundly ignored are not far removed from the informed and realistic Hogwarts students trying in vain to convince school administrators that Voldemort has returned.

Political metaphors aside, Order of the Phoenix may not be all that fun, but it does its job in that it's made me eager to see the forthcoming Potter films and find out what happens to these great characters.