fantasy

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) warnings of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) return are ignored as the Ministry of Magic sends Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to Hogwarts to be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. With her failing to teach them how to defend themselves, Harry and his friends’ band together to learn how to fight, as darkness grows

As I was rewatching this film, I realised that now I’m in the latter half of the series, these are the films I haven’t seen as many times and don’t necessarily remember everything about them. As I said previously, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite and I’ve probably watched that film the most out of all of them, but I’ve also ended up seeing pits and pieces of the first four films on TV, as those are the films seem to be on TV the most. Anyway, onto the review.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the first film in the series that David Yates directed, and he goes on to direct the rest of the films in the series. It’s a film that’s a lot darker in tone. Harry is having nightmares after seeing a fellow student killed in front of him and he’s feeling isolated especially as Dumbledore appears to be avoiding him. The colour palette of the film is colder too, everything seems slightly blue which is especially noticeable in contrast to the previous films where scenes at Hogwarts seem so full of warmth.

The scenes where Harry is teaching his classmates is wonderful. He’s so encouraging and it’s fun to see these kids skills progress – when Neville (Matthew Lewis) masters a spell everyone is so happy for him. Together these young people have made a supportive environment, which so many of them need when there’s outside forces working against them – including Umbridge.

Umbridge is a brilliant character and one of the most evil villains in the series. She’s a bureaucrat on a power trip, convinced she’s right and is better than everyone. Seeing other teachers disapprove of her, even in small ways, is great as it shows that the teachers are human too.

The Order of the Phoenix is full of highs and lows. When there’s action set-pieces they are well-shot and exciting, but as there’s so much talking between characters, sitting around a table discussing what they should do next, the film can be slower and less interesting at times.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a lot darker and is full of new information that helps make the threat of Voldemort and his follows more real. The finale is a bit lacking as due to the script, and Goblet of Fire’s script as well really, characters aren’t utilised enough so when tragic things happen, it doesn’t have as much of an impact as it should. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

The Triwizard Tournament, a competition between three champions, each from a different school, has come to Hogwarts. From the Goblet of Fire Viktor Krum (Stanislav Yanevski) from Durmstrang, Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts are all chosen to compete. But when Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) name is also pulled out of the Goblet of Fire, he must join the champions in braving three dangerous tasks.

The Goblet of Fire starts with a bang and the pace never really slows down. This film expects you to know about Quidditch, magic and who these characters are. It does flesh out the world a bit as it takes the time to introduce you to the unforgivable curses and show why they are so unforgivable, but besides from that it’s a very fast paced film that fully immerses you into the magical world.

Like it’s predecessor, The Goblet of Fire is darker and more grown up. Our teenage heroes are definitely teenagers as there’s angst, miscommunication and hints of romance. When Harry’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, Ron (Rupert Grint) is hurt, jealous and moody about it all as he’s sick of being what he feels to be Harry’s sidekick. I know all this from reading the book but due to it being an adaptation, in the film Ron unfortunately comes across more of an unlikable and petty guy.

The Triwizard Tournament itself is very exciting. The three tasks are very different, and they show off different magical creatures we haven’t really seen before, and spells and potions. The special effects are fantastic too which definitely help make creatures like dragons and merpeople threatening, and in some cases, pretty scary.

I’ve always found the ending of Goblet of Fire pretty jarring. Something incredibly tragic happens leading to Dumbledore giving a solemn speech that’s really affecting but in the next scene, all the school kids are smiling and laughing, and the film ends on a light-hearted note. You almost get whiplash from it all.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a little uneven in terms of tone but it’s a fun, exciting time. It’s a film with a final act that changes just about everything for Harry, his friends, and the wizarding world as a whole, and that builds the anticipation for the next instalment. 4/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

It’s Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at Hogwarts and it brings a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis). But there’s danger for Harry as convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and is coming after Harry.

I will preface this review by saying that not only is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban my favourite book in the series, it is also my favourite film. So potentially this “review” is a little biased.

There’s a lot of new, and important characters introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban. Both Lupin and Black have history with Harry’s parents, giving him an emotional connection to them both. The Dementors are also introduced and they are some scary creatures that from the outset you can see the affect they have on people. They can suck the soul out of someone and with their black cloaks and hooded figures, they are very much like the grim reaper.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, there’s some dark and scary imagery in this film. In one of the first scenes where Harry is near a park, the creaking sounds of the swings and the roundabout moving in the wind instantly shows what sort of tone the film’s going to have. There’s some beautiful imagery in Prisoner of Azkaban too, the scene where Harry’s flying on Buckbeak the Hippogriff is stunning and the scenes with the Dementors circling Hogwarts as plants wither and die as they pass over them is incredibly eerie yet beautiful.

Everything about Prisoner of Azkaban is more mature. The young cast have grown up a bit since the last film and are more assured in their performances. The tone of the film is darker, gone are the bright colours of the previous two films, instead the landscapes are more muted and Quidditch is played in the rain.

There’s a lot of little things that I love about Prisoner of Azkaban. Like there’s a few scenes of Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), Neville (Matthew Lewis), Seamus (Devon Murray), and Dean Thomas (Alfred Enoch) hanging out and having fun which makes them all feel like actual friends who’ve known each other for a few years now. I like how when the kids are wearing their uniforms, they aren’t all neat and tidy anymore, instead ties are loose, shirts are untucked, and sleeves are rolled up, making each character feel like a real teenager at school. Everyone’s hair is perfect book-hair too.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is brilliant as it has both a sense of wonder and an underlying layer of threat. It’s funny, the characters are becoming more well-rounded and the performances are getting better and better. It’s such a great film, and while there are changes from the book, it’s a great adaptation as it keeps the heart of it. 5/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) ignores warnings from Dobby the House Elf (voiced by Toby Jones) not to return to Hogwarts, but there he finds the school is plagued by something attacking students and Harry starts hearing a voice that no one else can hear.

The Chamber of Secrets is darker in tone compared to its predecessor, but it still has a lot of childlike wonder about it. Just when you think you know everything about Hogwarts, there’s hidden dangers and rooms waiting to be discovered. Some of those dangers include giant animals that no one would want to meet in real life.

The scenes at The Burrow, the Weasley’s home, are wonderful. It’s the first chance for both Harry and the audience to see a proper wizarding family’s home and there’s a lot to see; dishes washing themselves and a fascinating clock are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s lovely to see more of the Weasley’s, especially Mrs Weasley (Julie Walters) who is a force of nature but it’s clear she loves her children, and Harry, very much.

The young cast have improved since their first outing, though aren’t as good as they grow up to be, but Rupert Grint shows the beginnings of some great comedic timing. They’re still surrounded by some great acting talent and there’s some new faces in the form of Kenneth Branagh as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart. His ego makes him hilarious! Also joining the cast is Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s (Tom Felton) father. He’s an imposing presence, and is both slimy and charming in equal measure.

The Chamber of Secrets is probably the most faithful of the adaptations but that does mean it can get a little bogged down with scenes and characters that don’t particularly further the plot. Anything with Dobby though is brilliant. For a computer-generated creature, he’s so emotive and easily likeable, his scenes with Harry are often funny.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets starts to raise the stakes as you learn more about Lord Voldemort, but it still feels like there’s a safety net around our young heroes. But that is all about to change very soon. 3/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

On the run up the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald I’m rewatching and reviewing all the Harry Potter films, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as they’re films that made up a big part of my childhood but I’ve never reviewed them before.

Orphaned Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers he’s a wizard and joins the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he makes new friends and rivals and learns that there’s an evil that haunts the magical world.

It’s hard to talk about the Harry Potter films individually when you’ve seen the entire series and have read the books. You know where all these characters end up and The Philosopher’s Stone sets up so many character arcs and mentions so many people or items that will become more important later on in the grand scheme of things, and it does it all so well. With hindsight I appreciate The Philosopher’s Stone a lot, it’s a perfect introduction to this whole new magical world, taking the time to explain things while still having a compelling mystery at its core.

While he’s learning magic and potions, Harry meets Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) who soon become his best friends. When they’re not in classes the three of them stumble across a massive three-headed dog and soon get involved in a secret hidden in their school. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone works so well because one of its main story elements is the adults don’t or won’t believe the children, so they are the ones who have to go on a potentially dangerous adventure to save the day. Everyone has been a child so it’s a situation we can all relate to.

The main young trio Radcliffe, Grint and Hermione Watson give fine performances but it’s the adult cast that’s built around them that manages to be great but at the same time never overshadows their child co-stars. Richard Harris as Dumbledore is brilliant, he’s wise and calm but it’s clear he’s powerful and respected. Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane, as Professor McGonagall and Hagrid respectively, both bring warmth and humour to their roles. It’s Alan Rickman as Professor Snape that really stands out though. He plays Snape with such nuance that he’s an intriguing character from the outset.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is so bright and colourful which you appreciate more when you think about how dark, both in tone and colour palette, the latter films get. While some of the special effects have not aged so well, the Quidditch match is still thrilling to watch. The score is beautiful, and it’s funny going back to the beginning because these musical cues have become so iconic, and who knew this music would be here to stay.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great family film. It’s funny, exciting and has a compelling mystery at its heart. It’s a great starting point for adapting the books. 5/5.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange (2016)

After an accident that permanently damages his hands, neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels the world in search of healing. He’s drawn into the world of the mystic arts and is taught the sorcery skills and the path to enlightenment by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) to protect the world.

Stephen Strange is a brilliant surgeon but an incredibly arrogant and rude man. His relationship with fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), is strained due to his superiority and it only get worse as he refuses to accept that his career as a leading neurosurgeon is over. Strange isn’t a likeable character and while he does go on a journey and changes, he’s still not a particularly pleasant guy.

Doctor Strange is an origin story, and an origin story that is very similar to that of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Iron Man. However, Cumberbatch lacks the humour and charisma of Downey Jr, which means that Strange feels like a very bland hero. Humour and Cumberbatch don’t really work together, in fact the only moments of humour that really land in Doctor Strange are when McAdam’s Christine is performing surgery while a magical battle is happening around her.

The bad guy in Doctor Strange is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a sorcerer who’s got dark plans. He seems like an interesting antagonist, especially when he has a dialogue with Strange, but unfortunately you don’t get to see him that much – he’s there for a fight scene and then disappears until the next one.

Doctor Strange has some incredible visuals. While there’s a fair bit of exposition to introduce the concept of multiple dimensions and the astral plane to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when you get to see characters interact with and move between these dimensions, it’s stunning. Characters can bend reality to their will, leading to mind-bending visuals. It’s like a city is inside a kaleidoscope, and as the city folds into itself, characters are fighting with magic while contending with the constantly moving environment.

The performances are generally decent but not great unlike the spectacular visuals – but a great-looking film doesn’t make a great film. There are moments of wonder and excitement in Doctor Strange, but otherwise it’s not that memorable. 2/5.

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Favourite Science Fiction & Fantasy Films

Top 5 Wednesday is a great feature hosted by ThoughtsonTomes. To find out more about Top 5 Wednesday and the upcoming topics, check out its Goodreads page. This week’s topic is in honour of the Booktube SFF Awards and instead of focusing on books, we’re talking about our favourite science fiction and fantasy in other media, whether that’s TV or Film. Me being me, has gone for film and here are some of my favourites.

Moon
If you’ve not watched Moon you really should. It’s a small-scale sci-fi film that sometimes feels claustrophobic, but that just adds to the underlying tension running throughout the film. Moon is eerie and gripping and Sam Rockwell is fantastic. It’s a film that’s lodged itself in my brain from the first time I saw it.

 

Transformers
While I do feel this franchise has gone on far too long and has generally gotten worse, I do love the first Transformers film. It’s one of my “comfort” films, if I feel down for some reason I’ll put it on and the over the top characters and action cheer me up. The battle in Qatar’s desert between the US military and a Decepticon is one of my favourite action sequences ever.

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