The problem with reviewing the Harry Potter films is that they are Harry Potter films. Would the newest and fifth film in the series based on J.K. Rowling’s ludicrously popular books "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (PG-13, 138 min.) be as good a movie if it was called "Larry Botter and the Order of the Small Fury Hamsters" and most of the world wasn’t patiently awaiting the live action recreation of Voldemort and Dumbledore’s showdown? Terrible titles involving hamsters aside, the answer is yes, most of the Potter films would stand on their own especially this newest, though not greatest, installment.
But that really doesn’t matter because it is Harry Potter and that aforementioned fight at the end, though a bit different from the book, is amazing. Of course "a bit different from the book" is pretty much an absolute necessity when the book you are turning into a movie is 870 pages long. Director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg have done an incredible job of cramming a plethora of pages into a surprisingly short two hours and 18 minutes.
The book and film’s story involves the return of Voldemort and the denial of the Ministry of Magic that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned, which in turn creates a government which wants to control any people who speak against it and delivers the supremely evil Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts to keep Harry and Dumbledore in check. Meanwhile the rest of the adult cast that has formed around Harry has secretly revived "The Order of the Phoenix," a group of magicians who fought Voldemort the first time around.
There is a lot more going on in the movie than there is space to type about and even that doesn’t cover the book, but the creators do their cutting wisely, and unlike the first two films, don’t try to cram everything into the movie, but don’t ignore the books as much as the third. Yates hits all the key spots dead on — there is even a Dumbledore’s Army training montage — while still giving subtle and not-so-subtle nods to plotlines he wasn’t able to explore as fully as a five or six hour movie may have. And while some of the cutting, like there only being two rooms in the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Mysteries(!), are a bit aggravating to those who have read the books multiple times, they are far from deal breakers.
All, and I do mean all, the actors have once again returned for this film, and it’s nice to see Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) growing up to be an actual actor and that Rupert Grint (Ron) has finally mastered a facial expression other than confusion. Even Emma Watson, who has always seemed to be the weakest link of the trio, puts forth an impressive performance as Hermione. And all the background students who come more strongly into play in this fifth installment show that they weren’t just chosen for their resemblance to their parts.
Of course it is all about those last twenty minutes because ever since anyone read the book they’ve wanted to see that final fight around the mysterious archway, in all of its cinematic glory. Much like the rest of the film it doesn’t let down. Sparks — and wizards — fly around in an action sequence only a Harry Potter film could produce. So, yes, these films would be fun even if they weren’t so desperately anticipated, but they’re great because the world and story Rowling has created are great. They’re great because they’re Harry Potter.