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The plot thins

Movies | The latest Harry Potter movie has flash and fans but less fireworks as a story

Issue: "When the base cracks," July 21, 2007

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 to see the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (rated PG-13), fifth in the seven-part series.

However Rowling accomplished her enchantment over fans, the power of her franchise can't be minimized. The book version of Order of the Phoenix sold around 55 million copies worldwide. The last Potter film grossed $892 million worldwide-a figure set to be broken by Order of the 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. Order of the Phoenix ultimately disappoints because the meta-narrative arc seems stuck. The characters develop but the plot stagnates.

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In the preceding film, Goblet of Fire, Lord Voldemort, the noseless archvillain, returned with a bent toward domination. Potter fans waiting for some resolution 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 order.

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, but Potter decides he's on his own against Umbridge and Voldemort and 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 on Snape. The filmmakers simply do not linger long enough to say.

But no one can 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 a 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 probably already are lining up at bookstores 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 Order of the Phoenix-especially in magical fireworks and luminous spells-but the plot stays cold.


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