Review: Latest 'Potter' film lacks magic

In “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” our hero finally gets the chance to lay a lip-lock on Cho Chang, who has long had his eye. Unfortunately, he puts aside his magic when it really counts. The wizard blows his chance, giving her a proper English royalty kiss – a constipated Muggle peck as one might expect from Prince Charles.

This stiffness runs through the movie.

Harry Potter has survived spells, conniving teachers and the vicious abuse of his guardians. He most likely will withstand the listlessness curse placed on the cast and crew for this latest outing in the franchise.

Fatigue is inevitable after seven books and five movies. The scriptwriter for the first four movies took a break for this one and Mike Newell, director of the preceding Potter movie, decided to pass as well. Neither of their replacements, especially the director, David Yates (mostly British TV, plus the next Potter film, which is already in pre-production), bring much experience, which is somewhat curious.

The production values remain strong—camera work, special effects and editing still unblemished. But the movie lacks magic.

To be fair, several factors conspire to make these last episodes a tough nut to crack.

The novelties and revelations—Hogsmead and all its amazing shops, Quidditch, the Tri-Wizard cup and live portraits on the wall—arenow part of the lore. Likewise the wands, spells, and potions. The presence of sorcery and magic, in and of itself, no longer provides intrigue. Even when the wizards draw their wands on each other, it feels like a paintball fight.

Adding to the dead weight factor this time out is Professor Umbridge. Part of the group dedicated to undermining Dumbledore and Harry, she has been appointed Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Not wanting the students to improve their defensive prowess, she has them put their wands away and return to reading their texts, while she sits in front of the class and gloats. Ho hum.

When Dumbledore loses his job as headmaster, Umbridge is promoted to his position, sucking the life out of the school … and the movie. Unlike Dumbledore, she inspires neither fear nor excitement. Her character, central to the script and expertly portrayed by Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton, is a snore in a narrative that needs to wake up.

Gone is the fun stuff.

We’re now headed for a strategic confrontation of good and evil, and it requires dramatic strength, not just visual goodies and special effects. When Voldermort and Potter begin to violently tap into each other's minds, merely flashing into a montage of memories can’t sustain the intensity.

Author J.K. Rowling is quoted as saying the Potter series is about death. Indeed, it’s the unrelenting specter of mortality that keeps us entranced. Unless that tension returns to the screen, with the last book and “the ending” about to be released, the movie versions could suffer at the box office.

That would be an unfortunate ending for the films, which have brought honest-to-goodness magic to so many over the last six years.

Grade: C+

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com.

View a slide show of the U.S. premiere of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

Read more Examiner reviews of “Order of the Phoenix” and other movies.

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