As should surprise no one, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is this weekend’s big winner, grossing some $140 million in its first five days.
I saw the movie last night, and liked it quite a bit; the last reel is a little frenzied, with a series of light shows that nearly destroys director David Yates’ impressive balancing act between internal drama and external spectacle. But for the most part, it’s a solid entry in a series that’s been as constrained by formula as the James Bond franchise.
And, once again, I marvel at the breadth and depth of British acting talent that’s been marshalled for these movies. “Order of the Phoenix” features just about everyone who’s anyone in the UK film industry, and they’re all giving real performances, rather than showing up to impress their kids.
Gary Oldman. Michael Gambon. David Thewlis. Robbie Coltrane. Brendan Gleeson. Maggie Smith. Even Jason Isaacs and Helena Bonham-Carter, though they’re kind of overplaying their eeeeevil qualities.
Even the smallest walk-on, like Emma Thompson’s reprisal of the fluttery Miss Trelawney, or Timothy Spall’s appearance in precisely three shots as Peter Pettigrew, seems considered and respectful of its place in the series’ history. I couldn’t take my eyes off Spall when I realized he was standing amongst the characters in one of those living photographs, looking simultaneously resolute and shifty. Standing still. Acting.
The larger roles are good, too, particularly Imelda Staunton’s cheerfully fascist Dolores Umbridge. And after years of false starts, Alan Rickman finally turns the enigmatic Snape into the series’ most intriguing character with a series of marvelous scenes opposite Daniel Radcliffe. Hearing him slip into the rhythms of Hans Gruber in a key scene was an unexpected delight, though I’m not sure anyone else picked up on it.
That’s more than I’d come to expect from this series. Or maybe “The Order of the Phoenix” is the one where it all hits critical mass, and I started to care about the characters.