The latest installment in the Harry Potter series opens with a storm gathering precipitously over the young wizard's head, portending an attack by the Dementors, those soul-sucking wraiths that circle their prey like buzzards. It's moments like these that show how far J.K. Rowling's hero has come from the beginning, when he was delivered from a Dickensian home life into a gee-whiz world of flying broomsticks, whimsical creatures, and other magical enchantments. Now, dark clouds follow him around like Pig-Pen's filth, and being a wizard has become a joyless burden, a destiny that he grimly accepts as his lot in life. Though there are moments of levity scattered throughout Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, the workmanlike fifth entry in the franchise, the overall feeling is that it sucks to be Harry Potter, and it's only going to get suckier from here on out.
Though he fends off the Dementors, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) gets expelled from Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry for using a forbidden curse in the presence of a "muggle." He wins back admittance on appeal, but many members of the Ministry Of Magic refuse to accept his contention that the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned and plans to engage the forces of good in a battle royal. As a measure to keep Harry and his cohorts in line, the Ministry installs prim taskmaster Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) as the new professor of Dark Arts, and she keeps them busy with grueling memorization and paperwork. Harry revolts by creating Dumbledore's Army, a group of rebel students who harness their powers in a secret training room. He's also introduced to the Order Of The Phoenix, a clandestine faction preparing for a showdown with Voldemort.
While not all Harry Potter movies are created equal, consistency has been a major priority for the series, to the point where it's become the Prozac of blockbuster franchises—few highs or lows, just a general baseline of pleasing competence. Granted, there's a significant difference between the flat literalness of Chris Columbus' first two entries and Alfonso Cuarón's fanciful Prisoner Of Azkaban, but the films are telling one long story, and inspiration is often sacrificed for continuity's sake. Directed by David Yates, who has a background in British television, Order Of The Phoenix feels a little too complacent at times, though it has moments of visual wit, and it doesn't soft-pedal the dark mood that has eclipsed the series. Save for the thrilling opening sequence, there's not much to remember about the film beyond Staunton (Vera Drake), who masks her bottomless malevolence behind a pasted-on patrician smile. During this transitional stage, Dumbledore's Army and the Order Of The Phoenix prepare for bigger fights ahead—and presumably, more exciting movies, too.