Let me preface by stating I have read not one word of J.K. Rowling's six (about to be seven) book opus and with the exception of Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, haven't been all that impressed with films spawned. However watching Peter Yates' (a veteran of BBC television movies, most notably The Girl in the Cafe) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for the first time I actually want to pick up the damn book. This a darker, more brooding film. Harry is more brittle and rattled and the change makes for the best Potter film to date. The sense of whimsy is little, but the magic is there.
The fifth film picks up where the clumsily put together Goblet of Fire ended; Lord Voldemort has returned, Cedric Diggory is dead, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, nailing the angst and vulnerability beautifully, possibly learning a thing or too from the seasoned actors that take part in this films) is downtrodden and haunted. Order of the Phoenix works better than the other films because it's less about plot and more about Harry's emotional state-- it's not brimming with climaxes every five minutes, and stops to breathe every couple of minutes. It's the most nimble of the series so far, and with the shortest running time.
Things get grimmer for Harry and gang as the next year at Hogwarts commences. A new Defense of the Arts teacher is on board, Dolores Jane Umbridge (played with delight and rage by Imelda Staunton.) She's a member of Ministry of Magic sent to Hogwarts to cleanse the school of it's values, and the possibly dangerous intentions of headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), one of the few personages who believes Harry that the Dark Lord is indeed back. Another new edition to the story is Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, and without giving anything away, she's crazy and wonderful, and without reading the original text, I may not be shrewd in stating, but perfectly cast. The whole story of the Ministry and Ms. Umbridge adds a smidgen of political commentary to this segment (an ineffectual governement, unburdened by evidence, and with a knack for fear mongering, come on.) So not only does Harry have to defeat Ms. Umbridge, and Voldemort, but also his own psyche, which makes for the darkest, deepest, and most cinematic Potter film to date.
Yates, a Potter neophyte, along with newcomer screenwriter Michael Goldenberg have concocted the most imaginative and splendid of the five films, this is only one that has a sense of real magic and real doom, it's the best realized of the films to date, not so focused on slavish adaptive rendering for the fear of upset fans. The acting is a lot better too-- Radcliffe seems sharper and more focused, even as Harry is more withdrawn and complex and Staunton gives an award worthy performance for her Miss Brodie Jean role on crack. So kudos are in order here-- it's really the first Potter film that made me give a damn. A-