The fifth adventure for the teen wizard,'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' is another visual marvel, yet it suffers from a problem similar to other sequels this summer: We've seen it all before.
Or at least, we've seen most of it. Sure there are new characters introduced, new perils, new responsibilities for Harry and his pals and new revelations about the kid's early life and connection to the dark Lord Voldemort.
And Harry even has his first kiss.
Those fresh details aside, though, and despite a new director and screenwriter,'Order of the Phoenix' sticks safely and at times monotonously to the Potter formula: Show a bit of Harry's drab summer among his heartless Muggle relations, branch off into a magical interlude, then land him back at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, where the same old issues resurface — classmate rivalry, teacher trouble, and a slow build toward another showdown with Voldemort.
Granted, this is the formula of J.K. Rowling's books, and with fans counting the days until the arrival of the seventh and final novel July 21, the recipe has served the series well.
Watch the preview of 'Order of the Phoenix'
A good deal of the charm of the earlier movies results from the baubles the filmmakers have kept in from the books: Odd little interactions with Hogwarts' resident ghosts and living portraits, some sports action on the quidditch field, quirky classroom happenings — stuff that doesn't really have much to do with the main story.
In casting aside most of those trappings, director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg deliver the shortest Potter movie yet, though 'Order of the Phoenix' is the longest novel at 800-plus pages.
The movie gains in momentum but loses a lot of the fun and wonder of previous installments. Granted, the stories grow gloomier as Harry's ultimate challenge approaches in book seven, but he's faced doom and death before and still managed to have a good time.
An air of calamity hangs over Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) from the outset in 'Order of the Phoenix'. At the end of his interminable summer, he's attacked by soul-sucking Dementors, then he's expelled from Hogwarts for unauthorized use of magic to drive them off.
Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) intercedes on Harry's behalf at a Ministry of Magic appeals hearing. But Dumbledore, previously a tender mentor for Harry, distances himself from the youth throughout the school year.
Harry and buddies Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) face the same old tormenting from classmates. But this time it's amplified by scorn for Harry, who is branded a liar for insisting that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) had returned to physical form during their battle at the end of the last school year.
The magical world is so shaken and divided that the Ministry of Magic assigns repressive teacher Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to the Hogwarts staff to keep an eye on Dumbledore and impart her bland, useless, "Ministry-approved" curriculum.
Dolores is all about toeing the line and outlawing original thought, leaving the kids without the knowledge and skills they sense they will need as Voldemort and his stooges close in.
It falls on Harry to organize and instruct volunteers in a gang they name Dumbledore's Army — Hogwarts students who band together to learn how to defend themselves against the dark forces.