One of the neat things about the Harry Potter books is how they gradually became more sophisticated as the series progressed.
Sure, the first book is a pretty solid work of fiction for children but what started off as a simple and abstract narrative about a heroic young boy defeating an evil warlock gets increasingly mature and complex as JK Rowling modified the tone and content in her books to suit the growing age of her readership. The teen angst she instills in Harry Potter no doubt is responsible for his connection to so many fans worldwide. Readers could relate to Harry’s more mundane battles in life such as getting a date and studying for school as well as being enthralled by his supernatural battles.
Rowling also doesn’t shy away from adding shades of gray to the characters too. Harry’s father James Potter, who was revered and largely shrouded in mystery, is eventually revealed to be a bullying meathead jock. Severus Snape turns out to be a tormented victim of bullying. Even Harry himself, in the final book, is somewhat preoccupied with trying to give his best friend’s younger sister the pork sword before heading into a final battle with Voldemort.
Whether intentional or not, the Harry Potter films have been created in a similar fashion. Starting out with the two Chris Columbus films (best known for directing Home Alone), they were simple films in execution which offer little to teenage or adult audiences. As the films progressed however, the choice of directors reflected the increasing complex source material and fortunately, the actors have also developed their talents and have been more than able to handle the meatier roles.
Order of the Phoenix is the fifth chapter in the series and now we have a film that dispenses with simple stories of Harry fending off Voldemort’s hired goons and instead deals with a more challenging range of themes including social paranoia, child abuse and media propaganda. It also introduces possibly one of the best characters in the series, Dolores Umbridge (played by Imelda Staunton) as the infuriating new Defence Against Dark Arts teacher who tries to dumb down the Hogwarts syllabus to the point of irrelevance.
In the grand scheme of Harry Potter’s quest to stop Voldemort returning to power, The Order of the Phoenix is not hugely important. The plot is a bit of a mess and save for one character death, there’s not a great deal here that’ll likely be remembered by the time the series is over. However, the books and films are just as much about Harry’s coming of age and in that sense, The Order of the Phoenix delivers in spades as he experiences his first kiss, starts having friction with his friends and struggles to balance his social and academic commitments.
This is certainly one of the best films in the franchise and the news that director David Yates has been signed on for at least one more Harry Potter production bodes well for the penultimate film.