Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is the fifth installment of the book to film series of a planned eight part story. As such, it is understandable that in the overall scheme of things, heaps of misery are piled on to boy wizard-in-training Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) as struggles to make sense of the ongoing political machinations in the wizarding world in response to the rising threat of the return of evil wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). This in turn leads him to lash out at his friends and teachers, making him a very hard character to root for during much of the film. But as events concerning his life continue to swirl about him outside of his control, Harry slowly begins to realize that he needs to take charge of his own destiny.
The film opens with Harry and his Hogwarts Academy headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) at the center of an aggressive public relations campaign by the Ministry of Magic to discredit their warnings of the evil Voldemort’s return. Barely allowed to return back to school, Harry finds himself at odds with a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Imelda Staunton), a stooge for the Ministry of Magic who is only instructing the students in the theory of defense against black magic, not in the actual casting of spells. Realizing that his classmates will need practical knowledge in the looming war against Voldemort, Harry begins secretly instructing them in the spells they will need.
Oddly enough, though the longest Potter novel to this point in the literary series, this film is the shortest in the cinematic series, a definite fault. Incoming screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, taking over for Steve Kloves who scripted the four previous installments, seems to be presuming the audience’s familiarity with the story and the world of Harry Potter in general that would be a safe bet for the books’ legions of fans, but may do a disservice to more casual movie goers. This film is not a good jumping-on point for the uninitiated. Many minor and supporting characters flit through scenes without introduction, seemingly only appearing to draw cheers from fans rather than serving any story purpose. Several scenes seem to gloss over incidences with the intention of having the details filled in by the audience’s recollection of the book. Given the size of the source book, this wasn’t the film for the filmmakers to economize on storytelling. As it is, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is a rushed, dark spectacle that is probably even more confusing of a mishmash if one isn’t already immersed in author J. K. Rowling’s sprawling world.