About every other year, a good-great comedy or action movie comes along and around Oscar time, we wonder first of all, if said film will be nominated for Best Picture, and if so, does it have a chance in hell of winning. Outside of the win by Lord of the Rings: Return of the King a few years back, said film typically doesn't have a chance in hell of winning (and even the Return of the King win felt more like a comprehensive win for the series rather for being recognized itself as a tremendous movie.
Why does this happen? Why are comedies and action/adventurers not taken as seriously or appreciated by cineasts as much as your run-of-the-mill drama?
I don't know - and generally speaking, I'm guilty of it, too. Ask me (or many others) what some of my "favorite" movies are and I'll cite Fletch (naturally), Office Space, The Princess Bride, Raiders of the Lost Ark and other such films; yet if you ask me (or those others) what the "best" movies are and the chances are pretty solid that none of those films (save for perhaps Raiders, which was nominated for Best Picture) will make the list. For whatever reason, we (collectively) just don't grant the same respect to these movies.
And here I am again, doubting myself. The latest in the Harry Potter series is, unbelievably, the best yet, and one of the best movies I've seen this year. It was generally accepted that Prisoner of Azkaban was the best of the series, and I shared that sentiment as well - Alfonso Cuaron's entry was the first that felt more like an adult film and less like a child fantasy (not that there's anything wrong with that necessarily). Yet Order of the Phoenix is this series' Empire Strikes Back - it has far and away the best plot of the series, and despite its origin book being the longest, the film clocks in at a (by comparison) brisk two hours and eighteen minutes. Free of time-consuming distractions like meaningless quidditch matches or the misguided band/dance scene from Goblet of Fire, director David Yates is able to focus on the meat and potatoes of the story.
That's not to say that there aren't things that might have been improved. There's more than one character that feels less like a character and more like a plot point, present only to advance the story or to impart some wisdom on Harry and his friends. Others, like Hagrid and even Professor Moody, feel like also-rans, squeezed out of the movie in favor of bigger fish that need frying (even Harry's "love interest" Cho Chang is generally dismissed, though I don't really see that as a bad thing). On the bright side, Alan Rickman's Severus Snape finally gets a much deserved meatier role, and Michael Gambon's Dumbledore finally shows us some of what has made him a legend in the wizarding world. Also, for the first time in the series, the more anonymous "Harry allies" like Neville Longbottom and the other Weasley siblings (especially twins Fred and George) are more than just background characters.
The script and effects deliver as well. Despite the series' progressive (and much ballyhooed) "darkness," there are probably more laughs in Order of the Phoenix than in the previous three films combined. Meanwhile, there were several occasions where I had to drop my jaw and say "Wow" to some of the creativity and execution of the special effects, culminating in the dazzling finale.
In the end, I'm guilty of succumbing to my own preconceived notions about action movies, much less sequels. As much as I might like to ordain this amongst "the best around," a part of me still sees it as an effects-laden summer movie based on a book dealing with standard themes about teamwork, loyalty and friendship. Nevertheless, while it won't be confused with a trailblazing film like Pulp Fiction anytime soon, it's the best movie of the summer (thus far), one of the best of the year, and the best yet in a great series.
Fletch's Film Rating:
"It's in the hole!"
For the record, I haven't read any of the books in the series. Also, just for fun, here are my ratings for the previous movies in the series:
Chamber of Secrets
Prisoner of Azkaban
Goblet of Fire