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The magic is back
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The latest and darkest installment of the Potter franchise, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is in my humble opinion the best one yet.

"Order of the Phoenix" brings the strongest performances to date from the series' three main stars, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley). Radcliffe acquits himself well as the angst-ridden Harry who is still traumatized by the death of his friend Cedric and the return of Lord Voldemort at the end of "Goblet of Fire."

Without a doubt the strongest performance of the film was turned in by Imelda Staunton ("Nanny McPhee") who plays the brutal and ruthless Dolores Umbridge. After Radcliffe, Staunton probably gets the most screen time in "Order of the Phoenix" and she does not waste it. Her portrayal of a vile mindlessly-devoted government employee comes chillingly close to events currently unfolding in Washington.

Also handing in a standout performance is Gary Oldman ("Batman Begins") as Sirius Black. Oldman completely evinces the trigger-happy yet despondent Black. As always, Alan Rickman's portrayal of the snide Professor Severus Snape is top notch, though unfortunately he was given very little screen time this go around. Helena Bonham Carter's turn as the deliciously insane Bellatrix Lestrange was unfortunately also not given enough screen time. But what she had, she made good use of, stealing the scene every time.

 Happily, director David Yates decided to forgo the tradition of his predecessors and did not direct Grint to act like a patsy. It's been my opinion for a while that previous directors have done a disservice to the character of Ron by making him act more foolish and cowardly than he was originally written for the sake of a few cheap laughs.

Not since John Williams' delightfully whimsical score in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" have I so thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack of a Potter film. Composed by Nicholas Hooper, the score of the film acts as a character in itself, building suspense and heightening the emotions of key scenes and along with the set design goes a long way to aging and darkening the tone of the movie.

Much of my criticism for the fifth film centers on the material that filmmakers decided to include in the movie versus the material they decided to leave out. While it is understandably impossible to fit nearly 900 pages of material into a two-hour movie, the Cho Chang/Harry romance in my opinion could have been left out in order to give Sirius and Snape more time to circle around and snarl at each other or to give more attention to the rift between Percy Weasley and his family which was only tantalizing hinted at in the film.

Going a long way to make up for all of the important character development left out of the film, however, is a spectacular fight sequence in the Ministry of Magic at the end of the film, featuring some seriously fearsome wizard dueling the likes of which filmgoers have not seen since Gandalf and Saruman battled it out in "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."

As a Potter fanatic who has read and re-read the books numerous times, it's difficult for me to imagine what viewing the movies must be like for a moviegoer who has not read the books. Bewildering would be one guess. Though the movie doesn't come close to conveying the level of depth and despair that the book gets into I think we all expected that somewhat. For what it is, "Order of the Phoenix" is an admirable attempt at condensing 870 pages into only a little over two hours of screen time and well worth the watch.



"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images and has a running time of 2 hours and 18 minutes.