A Step Back in the Right Direction

Aug 5, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Story, Staunton, themes, imagery

Cons:Fiennes, Gambon, Watson, weak opening

The Bottom Line: Not the best in the series (unlike most, I think “The Chamber of Secrets” is the best), but it is quite a bit of fun, especially for fans.

When attacked by ghastly Dementors, young wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) breaks rule by using magic in public...amongst Muggles (what? Oh for chrissakes, it’s the fifth film, and you don’t know what a Muggle is? Well, I can’t help you...no really, I haven’t read the books either!), and is threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts. Meanwhile, the increasingly iron-fisted Ministry of Magic, unimpressed by Harry’s forewarnings of imminent danger from Voldemort (Ralph ‘Mile High Club’ Fiennes), appoints a new Professor of the Dark Arts, Margaret That...er...Cherie Blai...er...Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), and her first call of order (by order of Minister Robert Hardy) is to outlaw defensive magic (firstly by discrediting Harry’s mentor Dumbledore, whose influence Hardy is paranoid about), and is keeping a particularly close watch over young Harry and his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint).

Somewhere in all of this, Harry experiences his first kiss with the unfortunately named Cho Chang (Katie Leung), but ultimately he begins teaching Hogwarts students magic spells himself, in secret (playing out in a “Dead Poets Society” -like insurgency fashion). Gary Oldman is back as Harry’s protective Godfather Sirius Black, as is Robbie Coltrane as friendly giant Hagrid. Once again, nefarious-looking Jason Isaacs turns up as the secondary villain Lucius Malfoy, while we wait for the real baddie to turn up (Voldemort), which of course, he barely does.

This 2007 David Yates (apparently a British TV veteran) entry into the popular series of cinematic J.K. Rowling adaptations (which I would’ve been a fan of, had they been around when I was about 12) concerning the adolescent wizard, is a major step up from the pretty terrible “Goblet of Fire” , which seemed to have no plot whatsoever. This one does, and it’s also got a terrific Staunton in the role she was born to play, a kind of Margaret Thatcher meets School Headmistress character. The theme of repression and government/ Church interference into areas of Education and adolescence is a fascinating one, and whenever Staunton (who is also very funny) is on screen, the film works very well. And even when the film has a set piece, it still drives the plot, unlike in the previous film, where the set pieces just seem to hang out there for no rhyme or reason. The courtroom scene here is a good example of this.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses- the opening scene is the dullest by far (will they please drop Harry’s insipid family for the next film? Not likely, but one can hope), some of it is a bit confusing for people like me who haven’t read any of the books (gasp!- whatever, dorks. At any rate, characters who I thought were dead, don’t appear to be suffering rigueur mortis here), Michael Gambon is simply miscast (and seemingly bored sh*tless) as Dumbledore, Fiennes’ Voldemort is still the Potter equivalent of Charles Gray’s interpretation of Bond super villain Blofeld (i.e. weak as p*ss, and meanwhile, the whole finale is so “Revenge of the Sith” that George Lucas should sue for copyright infringement), and whenever the three major characters (Harry, Hermione and Ron) occupy a scene together they all seem to have a disconnect, the camaraderie they shared in the first two films (though Hermione has always been a bit aloof and smart-arsey to me). Oh well, this is the fifth film, no time for character development I suppose (By the way, Dame Maggie Smith and Emma Thompson fans need not bother watching this one. Alan Rickman fans, though he is wasted, will still appreciate his impeccable line delivery).

And while we’re on the leads, well, there’s a bit of improvement. Radcliffe has always been the best of the three and given the meatiest part, he’s fine as always here. Grint has improved as an actor, but Ron kinda fades into the background this time. Watson is still the weakest of the three, but her ‘Ta-da! I’m acting!’ tendencies are a little less annoying this time. She’s older and hotter here too, just thought I’d point that out (and in a year or two, that last statement won’t seem so wrong...remind me to erase this later...)

Overall, though, this film is definitely a step up from last time (putting it on equal footing with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” ), and full of interestingly doomy and gloomy imagery, such as a cool skeletal horse and a creepy blond girl who would make Wednesday Addams run for cover. The CGI is all pretty good (even the centaurs are well-done!), with Hagrid’s troll-like half-brother the only sore spot.

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