Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dolores Umbridge: the scariest teacher in the history of the universe. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series had plenty of villains to spare, but this one is special—not only for delaying the throwdown with main baddie Lord Voldemort for two more books, but also for compressing some of Rowling's most potent ideas into a single odious shape.
Rowling enjoys slapping authority figures in the face, but in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, she also shows how destructive and painful they can really be. All that tops off Harry's continued journey toward adulthood, and the realization that he'll have to face threats like Umbridge all alone.
That's the book, of course. The movie—directed by David Yates—has the tough task of translating those ideas to the screen. As expected, it rocks. But it does have to cut a lot of content to keep the running time merciful.
The book and the movie both focus on the immediate fallout from Lord Voldemort's reappearance. Yates delves deep into Paranoia Land as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) travels to the Ministry of Magic to answer charges of underage magic use. There, he runs into Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who embodies all those secret Gestapo nightmares everyone ever had about their high school principal. She follows Harry to Hogwart's, getting Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) fired and ruling with an iron gradebook. Harry and his friends finally stop her, while revealing to the world that Voldemort is, in fact, back and ready to rumble.
Like the book, the movie coats it all with a thick helping of rebellion. People in charge don't necessarily deserve to be there, and deciding where to take a stand can be difficult. Yates keeps all that intact, especially key scenes like Harry teaching forbidden protection magic to his fellow students. He even finds interesting visual ways to deliver it, like the wall full of Umbridge's proclamations that comes crashing down when Fred and George Weasley blow Hogwart's for good.
Our author also puts the stakes in you're-not-a-little-boy-anymore terms by killing off Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who was the only family Harry ever knew—with a truly awesome house to boot. As with Rowling's book, our director makes Sirius's death subtle, almost casual, to stress how sudden death can be. He doesn't have a big fanfare or give Sirius a dramatic dying speech. The man is just gone, and we don't even have time to visually process it.
Besides the obvious lessons about thinking for yourself and fighting back when you feel you have to, Yates copies Rowling's notion that people can sometimes deny obvious (and dangerous) facts when they get scared. The Ministry of Magic is so scared of Voldemort that they'd rather blame Harry and Dumbledore than deal with the problem. Plenty of real-world leaders act the same way, and Yates, like Rowling, wants to show us how much awful they can deliver even when they think they're doing the right thing. So in the movie, we get shots of the magic newspaper, The Daily Prophet, blasting Harry like he's a fallen celeb and an early scene in the Ministry of Magic where they put the screws to the boy basically because they can. That's a lot scarier even than Voldemort—at least you can see him coming—and Order of the Phoenix never loses sight Rowling's message.
The Harry Potter movies all drop large sections from the book; not because they don't love them, but because they can't let the movie run longer than your average Jerry Lewis Telethon. Some of the drops came from earlier books, but—as goes with a series—they come back to bite us here. Specifically, we're talking about various flavors of Weasley. Fred and George, the series' resident pranksters have been causing mischief from the beginning. Umbridge basically walks around with a big target on her bag, giving them the chance to literally blow off the school.
All that is kept in the movie, with a spectacular effects scene that begs for Alice Cooper's "School's Out" to be thumping on the soundtrack. It also carries that all-important sense of humor: the notion that Fred and George are rebelling through mischief and making people laugh rather than going all Les Mis and shooting at people. Rowling wanted to show us how rebellion can take different forms and that sometimes just laughing at a person in charge can do wonders. Unfortunately, we haven't seen nearly as much of Fred and George in the previous movies as we get in the books. So the full impact of their rebellion—the fact that they were born to do this like Elvis was born to rock and roll—gets a wee bit watered down.
Same goes for Sirius's death. In the books, we got to know him really well, so we're totally aware of what a cool dude Harry lost. And okay, Gary Oldman is a cool dude, yes; but we don't even see him in the fourth film, and by the time Order of the Phoenix comes around, we have just a couple of scenes to get to know him. So when he gets offed, we can't be 100% aware of how much it hurts Harry. By extension, the fact the he now has to stand on his own—that no awesome godfather will sweep in and save him—gets slightly more obscured here. We're brainy over here, so these details aren't lost; but nothing is handed to us on a silver platter.
And you know what? It's kind of inevitable with this series of films. There's just too much book out there. Sure, Order of the Phoenix loses some of the flavor and strength of Rowling, but it gets so much else right that we're willing to forgive.
Do you forgive, too? Shmoop amongst yourselves.