Behold the power of the franchise. Perhaps Harry Potter's greatest spell of all is his enchantment over legions of fans. Many donned robes, wielded wands and put on wire-rimmed novelty glasses as they lined up hours before the stroke of midnight on July 11 for their first chance to see the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (rated PG-13), fifth in the seven-part series. It's not just geeky nerds who traded in their Stormtrooper outfits and Yoda ears for Potter garb. Normally self-conscious teenagers who grew up along with the series' young wizard seem to think nothing of donning a costume for the occasion.
However Rowling accomplished her enchantment over fans, the power of her franchise can't be minimized. The book version of Order of Phoenix sold around 55 million copies worldwide. The last Potter film grossed $892 million worldwide-a figure set to broken by Order of Phoenix, a more entertaining, if stagnant, film that tracks young wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) as he deals with looming threats while attending his fifth year at Hogwarts, a magical boarding school for apprentice witches and wizards.
Forget for a moment the objections of many thoughtful Christian parents that Rowling's decision to put witchcraft and wizardry into the hands of ordinary children rises to endorsement of divination. The Order of the Phoenix ultimately fails to deliver because the meta-narrative arc seems stuck in time waste mode. The characters develop, but the plot stays stagnant.
In the preceding film, Goblet of Fire, Lord Voldemort, the nose-less arch-villain, returned with a bent towards domination. Potter fans waiting for some resolution in the series won't find any relief in the latest film.
After seeing Voldemort's return himself, Potter struggles to convince classmates and authority figures outside of Hogwarts to believe him. The head of the Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, wrongly interprets Potter and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore's muckraking over Voldemort as a power play to take over the ministry. To put down the supposed insurrection, Fudge dispatches fixer Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton)-Spiro Agnew in a pink housecoat-to restore ministry-approved order to Hogwarts.
Facing pressure on all sides, Potter sinks into his now-familiar moroseness as friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) attempt to cheer him. After being tipped off by the Order of Phoenix, a wizard Jedi squad, Potter decides he's on his own against Umbridge and Voldemort. To this end, Potter begins teaching his own divinations class when Umbridge amends the curriculum to remove spell casting.
The Potter-taught spells come in handy for the students during fight scenes late in the film. But-perhaps as you might expect with teenage witches and wizards-the adolescents often use their powers in silly ways or to make fun of others. Is this wrong? Probably, but Rowling doesn't condemn frivolous magic as strongly as many would hope. In a scene where Potter uses a spell to crawl inside professor Severus Snape's mind, Potter begins to understand why the hook-nosed teacher has such a dour countenance: Harry's father, a contemporary of Snape, bullied him mercilessly with magic. Potter, who struggles with this temptation also, may or may not see the long-term effects of magic bullying in Snape's life. The film's adapters simply do not linger long enough to say.
None of this to say Harry Potter isn't fun. There's good reason Rowling has built such a fan base: Potter and his friends have become vibrant and familiar. A generation of fans who grew up with Harry Potter get to approach each new book and film as if they are a short summer reunion with old friends. Potter and company always have enough charm and spells to conjure an entertaining picture. And in a way, Order of the Phoenix may be the most action-packed and internally suspenseful yet.
But those who really want insight into Hogwarts' big questions will have to line up at bookstores next week ahead of the July 21 release of Rowling's final Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There's much light in the film adaptation of the Order of Phoenix -especially in magical fireworks and luminous spells-but the plot stays cold.