By this point in the series directors were getting changed like they were Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers. David Yates would be the latest man at the helm, and would go on to direct the rest of the series. With the opening scene we knew this would be a different world for Harry Potter than we’d previously knew. The Muggle world was no longer safe as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) find themselves attacked by dementors with the young wizard barely seeing them off.
Underage wizards aren’t allowed to use their spells outside Hogwarts however and Harry finds himself in front of the Minister of Magic. A smear campaign is aimed at Potter who is reviled and ridiculed for claiming that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned. As we all know, the Dark Lord is back, but with the official line being that it’s a lie, it’s up to a secret society known as the Order of the Phoenix to prepare for war.
Back at Hogwarts Ministry of Magic stooge Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) has taken over as Defence against the Dark Arts teacher. Staunton is incredibly hateful as the sadistic professor whose draconian punishments are masked by her motherly demeanour. Voldemort may be the real villain of the story however Staunton’s performance helps galvanise Umbridge as one of the most loathed characters in the franchise.
The action is turned up a notch with the adults getting more involved, climaxing in a blazing wizard battle between the Order and the Death Eaters in the third act. Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) return for the order while Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) maintains his allegiance with he who shall not be named. Helena Bonham Carter makes her debut as Bellatrix Lestrange, the psychotic cousin of Sirius. The actress is gloriously over the top as Lestrange, as she giggles and twitches her way through each scene with a maniacal glee.
There isn’t much filler in Michael Goldberg’s script and the pace is a lot quicker than previous films. More care could have been handled with a particular tragedy however the message remains clear. Characters you like will die.
After five films we’re finally given an insight as to why Snape (Alan Rickman) has a dislike for Harry. After been mostly absent since the first film, it’s a welcome return for Rickman who plays one of Rowling’s most fascinating characters. His vulnerability is exposed as the layers of his past are pulled back, changing his relationship with Potter forever and exploring the depth of their connection.
The expansion of the world along with Yates’s gaze keeps things fresh and our attention focused. Some actors feel criminally underused but that’s a testament to the talent that has been cast. There aren’t many revelations to be made, but those that are revealed are crucial to the franchise. It’s not the strongest entry, feeling at times like a stop gap, yet Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix remains is a thrilling and exciting film.