Let's be frank. I love J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and, after waiting so long for this movie, there was no way I wasn't going to enjoy it. Even so, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" greatly exceeded my expectations.
Daniel Radcliffe has come into his own as an actor, playing Harry with a new depth and confidence that fits well with the character at this point in the story. The acting skills of Emma Watson as Hermione and Rupert Grint as Ron are markedly more mature, as well. And this director seems to take them more seriously. (There was not one scene where any of them screamed "Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!" in unison. I hate that.)
Radcliffe does a great job with the first kiss scene, and the group discussion of the event afterwards in the dorm is pitch-perfect. Both have to be among the best scenes in the whole Potter series. And of course, there is the grand exit of the Weasley twins, a gratifying moment if ever there was one.
Casting could not be better for the new characters: Imelda Staunton is thoroughly loathesome as the odious, simpering Delores Umbridge. Newcomer Evanna Lynch is exactly as I had pictured the quiet, quirky starchild Luna Lovegood. I do wish there had been more footage of Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange; she is at once mesmerizing and terrifying in the role. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her next time, though. I look forward to that.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. He just doesn't have the bearing and voice that Richard Harris brought to the part. And what is up with that awful, clingy, grey nylon nightgowny thing they've always got him in? Harris had beautifully sumptuous robes, which added substance and style. I can't for the life of me figure out why they did away with that awesome wardrobe. Ah well.
The last movie, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was disappointing to me, because so much of the book was left out or tweaked, and what remained felt like fleeting glimpses of scenes from the novel. It reminded me of those little cartoon flip-books, where the action is jerky and disjointed. Knowing the Order of the Phoenix book was even longer, I was braced for more of the same.
Fortunately, the new movie didn't have the same rushed feel to it. OK, all of the subplots are missing, entire backstories are summed up in a sentence or two, and segments are a bit truncated. There are none of the delicious background action effects such as those in the The Leaky Cauldron or Gringots Bank from the first two movies. (However, the extravagant effects of the final wizard battle and the total demolition of the Hall of Prophecies pretty much make up for that. I imagine the IMAX version of the last twenty minutes is downright spectacular.)
At this point in the story, the straightforward storytelling seems as it should be. The situation is dire in the wizarding world. The good guys are under attack from all sides, and the characters are no longer children. The time for wide-eyed wonder is over.
We saw the film together as a family, and all of us -- ages 17 to 56 -- came away enchanted. As far as I'm concerned, that is movie magic.