Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix
I took my kids to see the new Harry Potter movie today. Not more than 3 or 4 minutes into it, my daughter turned to me and said, "This is not like the other Potter movies." And that was an understatement. Here's my review.
Before we go further, I just want to say that there are some spoilers here – or at least, I describe some scenes from the movie. You've been warned.
This movie, the 5th in the series, definitely has a darker tone. I'd heard that comment before seeing the film, and I thought that it meant or implied that the movie would be gory, or heavily occult, or some kind of thing that I wouldn't want my 5 year-old to see. However, after seeing it, I have a different understanding. The film isn't particularly gross – although the scene with Harry's bloody hand was rather disturbing. But it is more serious. The danger is more realistically portrayed, more visceral. If in the first four books & movies you had the sense that kids were "off limits" and safe as they fought the bad guys, you certainly don't get that feeling in this movie. The kids are in danger, and that feeling of safety is melting away.
The opening scene of Harry and Dudley encountering the dementors was not depicted as yet another kid-overcomes-bad-guys in a Home Alone cutesy improbable style. I have to say that some of the earlier movies seemed to do that, and it was probably right for the more innocent stories. But in this movie, when they encounter dementors, they run. Color nearly evaporates off the screen, and the footage is nearly black and white, with some cold tones of blue and yellow-green. You get the feeling they are in fact scared, and that there are no heroes who will bravely stand up to the danger.
The entire movie is like this. Gone are the plucky kid heroes. Instead, we have young adults who are conflicted, cautious, and to some degree, more human and real. Keeping in mind that this film seems determined to show a more grown-up world, consider the wizard battles near the end of the movie. These fights are amazing – you clearly see the difference between kids doing "expelliarmus" and adults basically blowing things to smithereens.
I've heard other reviews suggest that Hermione and Ron are not well acted. There's some truth to it, but not as much as I expected. They really do seem like more geniune people. They stand up for each other, they try to understand each other, and they never behave as if the world is safe and cheery.
Harry Potter himself has what I would consider to be his second true depiction of why he is The Chosen One. The first time was when he defended against dozens of dementors in what I think is the 3rd film and book. At that time, he had no idea he had such power – but given a chance to play with time travel, he sees himself doing it, realizes that it is him, and manages to summon up the power when the difficult task finally catches up to him.
In this story, there is a scene in which Harry is invaded by Voldemort, the villian. Harry is essentially possessed. And there is no one, not even the great wizard Dumbledore, who can leap into Harry's body and oust the villian. Harry writhes on the floor as Voldemort uses Harry's body to speak taunts at Dumbledore. All Dumbledore can do is urge Harry to understand that he is different from Voldemort, that he is not bound to be like him. And then we see Harry rebuke Voldemort with a simple but powerful statement.
"You can never know love or friendship. And I feel sorry for you."
At that moment, you get a glimpse into the spirit of the young wizard who may one day defeat the darkest sorcerer the world has ever known. He is utterly rejecting Voldemort, and for that one second, Harry no longer appears to be intimidated by the dark power that has enshrouded him.
Now, I don't want to spend the rest of this review giving you a play-by-play of every scene. But I do want to conclude with my thoughts on what this movie means. This movie is the turning point. It is perhaps slower at points, and certainly less childlike. But it is also more powerful, more moving, and possibly more important. Here the protagonist is finally coming into his own, summoning up his own strength. Here his friends are finally understanding what has happened to their no-longer-safe school and leaders. Here the villian has begun to gather forces, and they are killing those that dare oppose them. This is a darker film. It is possibly sadder because adult-world tribulations have crept in. But it is also more hopeful, because people are finding their strength to stand up against those trials, and it's not cheap gimmicks this time.