Many surprises and treats await the audience of the new Harry Potter film. The main surprise is that Daniel Radcliffe can really act. No, really. Our moody hero no longer looks as if he's constantly being slapped in the face, and conveys real emotions, injecting an actual character into his previous shell. Emma Watson is no longer the most talented of the young'uns, and even Rupert Grint has caught up. His Ron has changed significantly since the last outing, due to the fact that he gains real genuine laughs from his portrayal as the ultimate teenager [sarcastic, witty, a bit grumpy] instead of just gurning at appropriate times. The adult performances continue to impress, especially Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman, whose relationship with Harry is incredibly convincing, and has evolved significantly since the Prisoner of Azkaban. Evanna Lynch is perfectly cast as Luna Lovegood, just on the likeable side of creepy, and Imelda Staunton is captivating as Mrs Umbridge. She's a pink, fluffy, nightmare, seemingly light hearted but really a total b*tch.
The opening of the film is suitably thrilling, as our world and the magic world begins to collide with a Dementor attack in the park. It's a very well directed scene that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The first four films/books in the series mark the first half of the series. From five onwards is where the darkness really begins. I know everybody says the books are "darker" and "edgier", but they really are from here on in. With Voldemort back for real, there's real threat round every corner [though the Ministry of Magic refuses to believe it], and a series of disappearances is the real sign that he's back. Though the Goblet of Fire had its darker moments, it was intersperced with moments of comedy and lots of action. Whilst that film was very good, by including all the action, it left no room for character development and was subsequently exciting yet lacking emotion. Order of the Phoenix is almost the opposite. With the book waffling on, with too much detail in the smallest matters, it works much better as a film. The characters have much more room to breathe, and the whole movie feels much more rounded and like a film rather than a series of action sequences with Harry Potter in them.
When Umbridge starts to take over, we see real frustration from our heroic threesome at the mounting restricitions [shown to good effect in some of the films few comedic scenes] and boundaries set by the Ministry. It is surprisingly liberating when the students begin to fight back, and gives real excitement at the thought of teenage rebellion against the establishment.
For all its talk and character development, the end of the film explodes in a tense, exciting scene in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries. The set is fantastic, especially the golden fountain, and the prophecy room, and it has a sense of real danger about it. It's good to see some of Harry's friends aside from Ron and Hermione helping him against the Dark Lord, as it also helps to show how all Wizards and Witches must unite to defeat evil. It makes up for the lack of action in the films mid-section.
However, the film is not perfect. Helena Bonham Carter is desperately underused, and during the climatic battle there are opportunities that are disappointingly not taken [most notably Ron being attacked by the flying brains, and looking at the various rooms inside the Department of Mysteries]. Also, the incredibly important talk at the end of the book ["It is time I told you everything..."] is cut down to its bare bones.
These points aside, the Order Of The Phoenix is the best of the Potter films. With action, characters, great performances and a real sense of threat, it works much better than the book. Some might say it's boring, or that its too dark, but they're not looking for the right things, and neglect the fact that the book contains little action and is pretty dark itself. Just go out and lose yourself. Then wait in anticipation of the Half-Blood Prince...
Genre Value: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5