All pretense at cuteness is gone in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a spellbinding drama that's edgier than the previous Harry Potter movies. The book itself is one of the more difficult Harry Potter novels to follow, with all of the character's backstories being further fleshed out in order to set up the final act we're all sure is coming -- the ultimate one on one showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. However screenwriter Michael Goldenberg's first crack at the series sheds all but the very essential plot points, focusing on Harry and his best friends as they prepare themselves to do battle.
Whizzing by at a fleet 131 minutes, fortunately for HP fans everywhere the film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix doesn't feel like a pared-down Cliff Notes version of J K Rowling's story but instead like a showcase of the best moments (minus the Quidditch) from Rowling's fifth novel.
The series has already ventured into deeper, darker territory, but with Order of the Phoenix -- the fifth of seven movies -- there's more dark than light in the lives of our favorite Hogwarts students. The kid wizards are growing up and in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix maturity and approaching adulthood are coming frightfully fast and at quite a price.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens with Harry still at the dreaded Dursleys and bored to tears at being cooped up in the land of Muggles. But everything abruptly changes when Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by the soul-sucking dementors who are definitely not supposed to be anywhere near Pivot Drive. The only way Harry's able to save himself and Dudley is by using magic, something forbidden outside of Hogwarts. News of his use of magic travels at the speed of light to the Ministry of Magic and Harry soon receives notice that he's been expelled from school.
Thanks to some timely intervention by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) Harry's spared expulsion, but that doesn't do much to lighten his spirits. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has been haunting his dreams and Harry's sure He Who Must Not Be Named is close by. Meanwhile Harry, Hermione, Ron and a good portion of the Weasley clan have taken up residence in Harry's godfather's place. Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has provided a meeting place for the Order of the Phoenix, a top secret group made up of some of the most powerful wizards and aurors (otherwise known as dark wizard catchers) whose mission it is to battle Voldemort.
Complicating matters is a smear campaign waged by the Ministry of Magic and its puppet paper, The Daily Prophet. Minister Fudge and his group do not believe Voldemort has returned despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and they've taken to trying to discredit Dumbledore and Harry.
Asserting their power over Hogwarts, the Ministry has placed one of their own as the new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), with the backing of the Ministry, has come to Hogwarts to squash all talk of the return of Voldemort. Her methods aren't pretty and the students, led by Harry, rebel against her and against the idiocracy of the Ministry by forming Dumbledore's Army. Made up of a hand-picked group of students, the DA meets in secret to practice defending themselves against an attack by Voldemort's forces. As dreams of Voldemort continue to plague him, Harry realizes that another meeting with the Dark Lord is inevitable. The only real question is whether he'll be ready for the battle.