MOVIE REVIEW: New 'Harry Potter' is magic

That is the challenge that lies ahead for dear Harry, in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth and most intellectually powerful of the film series based on J.K. Rowling's hugely successful books about an English boy and his magical world.

Harry obviously is no longer the boy we first saw in 2001. As Harry, Daniel Radcliffe, who will be 18 on July 23, sports a compact physique, deepening voice and a new sexual awareness. He has his first kiss, a protracted smooch that he dubs "wet."

He also complains that he "feels so angry all the time," and "I cared too much; maybe it's better to go alone," typical of adolescent angst. This is the most overtly realized scenario in the series about Harry's need to surrender childhood's magic for the responsibility of impending adulthood.

On that tumultuous path, made more bittersweet by the great losses he has suffered, Harry is put to the test again and again. He must learn the difference between the light and the dark natures of the various characters in his life, the perilous ways of first love, the truth about his much-idolized deceased father and rediscover the affirming value of friendship.

David Yates, a Brit who has worked in TV and movies, turns out to be an ideal choice to direct the story of Harry's somber and even death-defying foray into adulthood. The movie, written by Michael Goldenberg, has both gravity and a lightness on its feet. Its story is never overwhelmed or transcended by special effects. At two hours and 18 minutes, it speeds by.

The movie starts with Harry being tried for working magic in the land of muggles, then it introduces a prissy fusspot named Mrs. Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who has been unleashed by dark forces to rid Hogwarts of magic. It's these forces that account for Harry's to-the-death showdown. This particular sequence is directed by Yates with such austerity and intellectual rigor, the films of Ingmar Bergman actually come to mind.

Most of the usual suspects, both good and bad, show up here, some sadly on and off in the blink of an eye, such as Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths.

But the heavyweights have their big moments, either trying to undermine Harry's magic (Ralph Fiennes' Lord Voldemort being the most pernicious) working to nudge him toward enlightenment (Michael Gambon's Dumbledore and Gary Oldman's Sirius) or deftly straddling the gray area between (most especially Alan Rickman's Snape).

And, of course, there are Harry's stalwart pals, Hermione and Ron, played with a rather impressive combination of moxie and compassion by Emma Watson (now 17) and Rupert Grint (19 on Aug. 24), respectively. To see this trio growing in reel and real fashion toward adulthood is to feel a pang of nostalgia and also to feel a sense of pride.

"There are storms ahead," someone warns Harry in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Indeed there are, but what good company to weather them with.
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