Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint star in a film written by Michael Goldenberg and directed by David Yates.
Those of us grown-ups who love the Harry Potter series are not just nursing a sustained collective escapist adolescence, oh no. It would be more truthful to admit that Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s adventures at Hogwarts offer us a recognizable undercurrent of nostalgia. What Harry Potter stories do best is supply a kind of ritualized, cyclical form for a caricatured dramatization of growing up away from your parents: the world’s most exciting adventure. Every book-and most of the movies-begin at the Dursley’s house where Harry is subjected to patronization and worse. He then moves with an uncertain lurch to Hogwarts, where he makes a name for himself and forms a tight-knit bunch of friends, only to be returned to that nest of solicitude known as home during holiday breaks.
This film isn’t any different, though now it incorporates the really melodramatic aspects of teen rebellion. The book, also entitled Order of the Phoenix-suggesting escape from fire-was reportedly the hardest for the wealthy J.K. Rowling to write. It sprawls past 800 pages, accordingly. I found it tedious at the outset, but rattlingly good toward the end. Most fans consider it hands down the best.
But the film suffers and triumphs almost directly in proportion to the heft of the book. Its magical moments are unsurpassed. The flying escape from the Deasleys and the swirling, violent wizard’s battle near the end delight. But unlike the book, which meanders, the film suffers from that most persistent of adaptation problems, episodic and character compression. (A constant complaint of fans in the whole series, but best earned this time.) The worst slight is to the joyous Hogwarts rebellion against the Fascistic Ministry of Magic. In the book you get tingles. Here it’s good for a smile.
Non-fans will probably have the same ambivalence as us nerds. It’s not action-packed, but there is a death and Harry gets to kiss a girl. “It was wet,” he says. Now that’s the kind of magic that broomsticks, wands, and house elves will never equal.