In modern Hollywood fantasy, black is the new black. The Harry Potter series, which was once as colourful as a Christmas tree, is engulfed in gloom for this, the fifth instalment. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has never seemed so oppressive, and even the tidy suburbs of Little Whinging are haunted by soul-sucking Dementors. This new maturity makes for a spooky atmosphere, but the glum visuals can't hide the fact that not much actually happens.
David Yates' film has the misfortune to be based on the dullest book in the series so far. This is the one where Harry goes all Kevin the teenager, while author JK Rowling pads out her meagre plot with heavy-handed educational satire. The meddling forces of OFSTED - sorry, the Ministry of Magic - are personified by Harry's ghastly new teacher, Dolores Umbridge. Imelda Staunton plays her as a kitsch Torquemada, evil distilled into a doily. Harry's private war with Umbridge forms the bulk of the film, and the story sparks sporadically into life as he defies school rules to give his fellow pupils secret magic lessons. The young stars are as good as they've ever been - Rupert Grint's Ron has finally stopped mugging - and Gary Oldman's delightful Sirius Black shifts the gloaming whenever he appears.
"STEPPING STONE TO LATER, GREATER THRILLS"
Order of the Phoenix is entertaining enough, but it feels like a stopgap, a stepping stone to later, greater thrills. It takes an awfully long time to get going, but fans will be rewarded with an action-packed final third full of duelling wizards, portentous prophecies and Helena Bonham Carter giving plenty of loony as Bellatrix Lestrange.
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is out in the UK on 13th July 2007.