Capital “P” Potterhead Kiki Penoyer enters her fifth year at Hogwarts and splits this re-view into three parts: the vilification of Cho Chang, the bungled tone of the adaptation, and how J.K. Rowling is a basically a soothsayer.
HELLO and welcome to this week’s episode of “Kiki Has Opinions On Young Adult Films For Which She Was The Target Audience On First Release.” I’m your host, Kiki Penoyer, and today’s topic is 2007’s ~*summer action blockbuster*~ Harry Potter and the DeVos Administration.
We have a LOT to talk about.
This is a super exciting thing for me to get to do, because I, after YEARS of begging and nagging and bargaining and wheedling and whining, have FINALLY convinced my husband (Roland) to read the books for the first time. (!!!!!) I am a Capital “P” Potterhead, the kind with the fanfic and the useless trivia and the extensive knowledge of which Sorting Quizzes are worth your time and which ones aren’t. (Spoilers: any quiz other than the Pottermore Complete is a waste, with the notable exception of Buzzfeed’s ‘Which Harry Potter House Does Your Cat Belong In?’ which I can report was 100% accurate for all three of the freeloading hairballs who live in my house. You’re welcome.)
I also gleefully abhor these fucking movies. I rewatch them faithfully after each readthrough and I am consumed with a comfortable, familiar nerdrage each time. It’s like putting on a cozy sweater knitted by a loving grandma. If your grandma had a full-color Hogwarts Crest tattoo splayed over her shoulder and a HAN SHOT FIRST sticker on the back of her Volkswagen.
Roland, however, is new to the fandom. Which means that I get to be there to witness the birth of a brand new nerdrage every time he finishes a book and we watch the film version together and he starts whipping around to look at me and go, “WAIT ARE THEY NOT GONNA DO___?” and then I get to cackle like the Baba Yaga and go NO THEY SURE WON’T, WELCOME TO BEING ANGRY ABOUT THAT CHOICE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, MWAHAHAHAHA. Plus he has cool and interesting insight, as a person truly experiencing this for the first time as a full-grown adult in the midst of a political hellscape. And he’s just fun to hang out with, so we made some snacks and settled in for the ride, hoping to focus on this as A Movie and not A Movie Based On a Beloved Novel That is Too Fucking Long To Commit To Screen.
But in taking notes and trying to keep a critical eye, I honestly felt as if it would be impossible to extricate the focus of the film from the focus of the novel, because I finally figured out what it was about this movie that had always bothered me: They tried to make a Super Cool Teen Drama Action Summer BLOCKBUSTER out of what is actually a political-intrigue thriller novel, and in doing so, they missed a major chunk of The Point. It’s like they put up a skeleton of what the major plot points were and then decorated it with flashy action sequences and unnecessary reaction shots RESPONDING to the action sequences; in doing so, they totally ignored the TONE of the story, which is (in my opinion) equally important, particularly with this book. Also, it’s sexist as hell.
What Even IS the Order of the Phoenix?
I’m going to assume you wouldn’t have clicked on this if you didn’t have at least a passing knowledge of or interest in Harry Potter, but since I’m not doing a play-by-play this time, here’s a brief summary: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the book) chronicles Harry Potter’s 15th year of life and 5th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry struggles with undiagnosed and alarmingly untreated PTSD after watching his friend die in front of him and subsequently surviving the fourth attempt on his life by Wizard Hitler, the psycho who murdered his parents. Because the Wizarding World is shit about mental healthcare and the Dursleys are neglectful and abusive fuckholes, Harry has received exactly ZERO counseling for any of this, and has taken to roaming the streets in a daze and picking fights with his childhood bully (his cousin) which is definitely up there in terms of the risk-taking behaviors available to him. He gets attacked by a pair of “rogue” Dementors (soul-sucking phantoms who are supposed to be guarding Wizard Alcatraz and not gallivanting around the ‘burbs), has to essentially be kidnapped by a load of his parents’ old friends (the aforementioned Order of the Phoenix) in order to save him from being hunted down by government-sponsored death squads, finds out the government-sponsored press has been working all summer to quietly discredit his accounts of Wizard Hitler as “fake news,” and almost dies under a mountain of homework.
At the same time, Wizard Hitler is actively hacking his brain via as-yet-unexplained Dark Magic shit, so Harry is forced to take Tinfoil-Hat-Wearing 101 with the neckbeard who’s abused him for the past five years because he’s still salty about not getting with Harry’s mother as a teenager. Harry experiences very ungraceful puberty and is hormonal and angry all the time, as all 15-year-olds are, and thus tends to be broody and isolationist and then suddenly scream in all-caps at his friends for looking at him wrong. Said friends, it should be noted, experience some pretty significant personal arcs of their own, including his BFF Ron finally finding something he enjoys and is good at but being wracked by the spectre of Self Doubt, and his other BFF Hermione basically being smarter than everyone all the time and saving everyone’s asses consistently. Harry is also battling his overwhelming crush on his dead friend’s girlfriend, Cho Chang, but discovers he’s really bad at dating and talking to girls and generally not being a fuckboy jockbro. Into the picture comes Demented Glittering Toadmonster Dolores Umbridge, a dramatically unqualified teacher who basically arrives to fill the children’s heads with propaganda about the state of the world and physically torture anyone who stands in her way as she slowly takes over the whole school. She and Capslock Harry do not get along. Hermione starts an underground resistance to fight back, because this is also the year everyone takes the Wizard S.A.T., which determines what you get to do with the rest of your fucking life and it’s therefore important that they LEARN shit, and when that doesn’t exactly go as planned, she feeds Umbridge to a herd of centaurs. The Gang then storms the Ministry of Magic to foil a nefarious Death Eater Plot, which turns out to be a nefarious Death Eater Trap because no one listens to Hermione, Harry watches yet another person get murdered in front of him, and Headmaster Dumbledore finally admits to Harry that it’s odds-on that he and Wizard Hitler are gonna have an Epic Showdown at some point and proooobably one of them’s gonna die in the process, so like, good luck with your girl troubles or whatever, my dude.
Also the Weasley Twins have all the best lines forever and start a War of Shenanigans by releasing a series of joke products aimed at helping students cope with the horrors they are witnessing at their school and fighting against fascism with irreverence and dank memes.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the film) is kind of that, but with all the intrigue stuff basically gutted, so it’s kind of just two hours of campy montages, way too many damn reaction shots, and a series of CGI sequences that are clearly more important than character development for anyone other than Harry and Sirius, the latter of whom only gets screen time because they want us to care when (spoilers) he gets eaten by Killer Drapery and he was all but cut from the last film so there’s a lot of ground to make up very quickly and aggressively.
THERE’S SO MUCH. But for this review, we’re going to focus on these major points:
- Cho Chang Deserved Way Better
- Why Understanding the Tone of Your Source Material REEEEEALLY MATTERS
- J. K. Rowling is the Nostradamus of YA Lit, and 2017 Can Prove It.
Destructively Problematic Storytelling: The Vilification of Cho Chang
Literally every woman’s role in this movie is squashed into almost complete nothingness if it isn’t fawning on Harry, and I am happy to discuss AT LENGTH the problems I have with this. (Examples include “Ginny Weasley is not just Set Dressing,” “Saying that Sirius is Harry’s only family is incredibly fucking offensive to Molly Weasley, Actual Best Character,” and “There is not a single significant plot point in this story that Hermione Granger didn’t have a direct hand in creating, EXCEPT all the ones where shit goes poorly because Harry’s a dumbass who doesn’t listen to her.”) But the absolute worst is the film’s treatment of Cho Chang.
Exhibit A: Many people much smarter than me have touched on this topic many times, but the reality is that there are not a ton of people of color in general in these movies, and women of color in particular. Once you’ve cut out Angelina Johnson’s run as Quidditch captain, Parvati and Lavender’s prominence in the Divination subplot (and their development into badass ladies of Dumbledore’s Army, the underground resistance group that would totally have read Teen Vogue today and been hella hype), and any information at all about founding D.A. member Padma Patil, suddenly Cho Chang is left as the only woman of color in the film who gets a single line. The least they could do, in this instance, is try and do her character justice, right?
Cho Chang (the book character, not the movie character) is emblematic of Ravenclaw House: a fiercely clever strategist on the Quidditch pitch (knowing she can’t outfly Harry on his top-of-the-line Rich Kid broomstick, she opts to simply get in his way as much as possible to attempt to frustrate him into making a mistake), an over-thinker when it comes to Feelings stuff (probably it’s not super sexy to spend a date trying to diagnose whether you’re only interested in a boy because he’s the last person who saw your previous boyfriend alive, ya nerd), and a passionate learner (she busts her ass in DA lessons, and her morbid fascination with trying to sort out exactly how much Cedric knew and how much more he would have NEEDED to know not to be killed is some macabre egghead shit if ever there was any). She’s incredibly emotionally nuanced, and when Harry Potter, Boy Wonder, takes her on THE SHITTIEST DATE OF ALL TIME, she calls him the fuck out on his terrible Valentine’s Day etiquette and fucks off to find something better to do.
Cho Chang (the movie character, not the book character) is a meek and blushing flower with almost no lines (none of which are about anything other than Cedric or how great Harry is at everything ever), and the only interesting thing she gets to do all movie long is betray the D.A.’s location to the Narc Squad, after which Harry Potter, Boy Wonder, drops her like a wet sock because ONLY LOYALTY MATTERS RAH RAH GRYFFINDOR and everyone’s a dick to her EVEN AFTER IT IS REVEALED THAT SHE WAS FORCED TO SHARE THIS INFORMATION UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ILLEGALLY ADMINISTERED TRUTH SERUM. Cho never gets an apology for being cold-shouldered (or straight-up shoulder-checked by an otherwise-silent Ginny Weasley, because #girlscantbefriends) after they discover she was possibly tortured by their psycho teacher; we just stop talking to her and never acknowledge her ever again, and Cho just takes it and stands around looking sad. That is not the Cho Chang Joanne wrote.
Exhibit B: The decision to assign the betrayal to Cho, instead of her best friend (Marietta Edgecombe), was probably done to save money by combining some shit and/or to make the betrayal feel more personal and therefore garner more pathos for Harry. And not everything can be exactly how it is in the books. I get that. HOWEVER. Marietta Edgecombe willingly betrays her friends in the D.A. because her mother works for the Ministry and she becomes paranoid about what would happen to her family if Umbridge found out what she was up to, and Marietta chooses her family over her friend’s shitty not-boyfriend (and is subsequently punished because Hermione Granger takes no prisoners and had secretly jinxed the club sign-up sheet to fuck up the face of anyone who squealed. Savage). And Cho, in turn, chooses to forgive her and side with her against Harry and his crowd of Popular Jocks.
When you smash these two storylines together, you fuck up in three ways: One, you’ve removed yet another female character from a movie that’s already severely lacking them; Two, you’ve eliminated a major branch of the whole political-intrigue-in-wartime story by cutting the subplot of a teenage girl who is forced to choose between her family’s livelihood and her friends’ safety, not to mention her own chance to learn how to survive, which is fucked up and also super important in terms of the overall Dystopian narrative we’re building here; and Three, you remove Cho’s demonstration of the strength of her convictions when she stands up for Marietta in the face of the boy she likes.
And by then removing the Worst Valentine’s Date Ever, the 20,000 instances of Harry Potter and the Foot-In-Mouth Disease, and one crucial scene in the Owlery where Cho fiercely defends Harry against an attempt by Probable Murderer Argus Filch to seize and track his mail, you create a sexist narrative that only focuses on the parts of the story that make Harry look good and ignore, A, Cho’s autonomy as a character, and B, Harry’s COMPLETE CULPABILITY for why this relationship couldn’t go anywhere.
Dumb. Cho deserved so much better.
TONE, HUH. (What iiiiis it good for?) Absolutely (EVERYTHING THO ACTUALLY)
Warner Brothers purposely bumped the release of this film from its usual holiday-season spot to a Summer opening in order to cash in on that Summer Blockbuster energy that is currently fueling the latest Spider-Man reboot. And sure, this franchise is a cash cow, and #capitalism, so of course they were going to do whatever they thought would make the most money. But when you discover the studio actually lost money on this movie, you (which is to say, me) might get a little smug, and think to yourself, “Well, gents, that’s because you didn’t really take the time to read the damn book properly, eh?”
The overarching conflict of the story is that Wizard Hitler has returned, but the Ministry of Magic is going to I N C R E D I B L E lengths to keep Harry’s account of this story from gaining any traction, and both of these entities prove to be equally dangerous to everyone’s favorite Upstart Orphan. This isn’t really an action-heavy book—Wizard Sportsball is severely truncated when Umbridge discovers it is Harry’s one real outlet and rips it away from him in order to break his spirit; there are no dragons or werewolves to fight; frankly, with the exception of the final battle sequence, it’s mostly a lot of psychological-thriller stuff and the uncovering of various dastardly plots through sneaky brain shit and not knowing whom you can trust at any given time.
And like, EVERYONE will tell you that Umbridge is a scarier villain than Voldemort because she’s NOT an action-movie villain—she’s a Psychological Thriller villain. She’s scary because she’s a giggling sociopath who takes a position that should be protecting children and using it to torment them, up to and including attempting to murder a 15-year-old boy with the Spooky Depression Ghouls. It’s some horror film shit. Imelda Staunton obviously got that, because she’s a fucking treasure and the best part of this movie and it’s a tragedy she didn’t win ten million awards for her dead-on portrayal of this truly evil woman.
The filmmakers, however…kinda didn’t. They seemed to think that somehow, unauthorized mail searches, child torture, whispered conversations in hallways, political machinations, and meetings in shady bars should be replaced with Danny Elfman-esque marches and visual gags, coupled with shoehorned CGI action sequences and have I mentioned how.fucking.many.unnecessary.reaction shots.there are.in this movie. And most disturbingly, a lot of these action sequences require completely throwing the logic of the universe out the window. The D.A. meetings, for example, take place in a giant concrete room with rusty grates in the floor and dingy mirrors around the edges. There are at least three separate instances of a student being flung across the room and landing flat on their back on the concrete some several yards away, and everyone giggles and the student in question brushes themselves off with a weird joke and it’s all fine. Over in Source Material Land, this room is filled with plush cushions, so that anytime anyone is hit with a spell and goes down, they land safely, because safety is KIND OF THE FUCKING GOAL OF THIS CLUB. There’s a tremendous amount of focus in the film on showing children being gleefully hurled around for laughs on hard stone floors, and I don’t?? Understand why??? But it makes me uncomfortable??? It’s just such a weird and unnecessary choice????
J.K. Rowling Warned Us All What Was Coming.
Not to say that shit WASN’T fucked in 2007. But this story feels very different in 2017. Watching the rise of a terrifying fascist regime powered by inept politicians and purposeful misinformation, the job of National Head of Education going to a completely unqualified and dangerous woman who got the job only because she demonstrated her unquestioning loyalty to the complete idiot at the top of the pile, a political entity taking over all the press available to the masses in order to control the way information is gained, purposefully spreading complete fabrications to discredit political opponents, firing and slandering anyone who disagrees with the regime, banning and discrediting any news source trying to share the truth, the abject denial on the part of the government when it comes to facing life-threatening crises, paranoid xenophobes openly and unprofessionally spewing racist bullshit and getting cheered for it, comedians using humor to deflate the thin skins of the lunatics in charge, the segmentation and fear of the community that leads to friends having to break ties in order to circle the wagons, and young people being the ones to organize grassroots resistance through unlikely/previously-dismissed magazines….
THAT is the plot of Order of the Phoenix. And obviously, that means something different in 2017.
And maybe that’s what makes the decision to try and turn this into a Cool Teen Drama Action Summer Blockbuster so much more frustrating now than it was ten years ago, and why this movie suddenly feels so disingenuous. This book is political as fuck, and it’s a huge part of the narrative of my generation in dealing with today’s situation: The Dolores Umbridge/Betsy DeVos memes were immediate and widespread. 45 is referred to as Tangerine Voldemort on my Twitter feed more often than by his real name. We recognize these people because we saw them as characters in a book in our formative years. I don’t think it’s that naive to suggest this story had a hand in one of the most politically engaged groups of young people in a long time, who have overwhelmingly voted and mobilized against the current regime.
But like, you know. Montages and reaction shots? That’s basically the same thing, right?
Anyway, sorry Roland. Welcome to the fandom.
COLLECTED RANDOM THOUGHTS.
Roland re: Grimmauld Place: “Did…did the wizard cops not think to check his house? ….Like his name is still in the paper. You’d think they’d have a cop stationed outside this super prominent family residence.”
- I would watch a whole movie that was just Arthur Weasley looking at muggle shit. I am amazed they have not done a Shrek and capitalized on this spin-off yet.
- The musical cue when we walk into the Ministry of Magic for the first time is absolutely the opening riff of “One Day More” from Les Miserables and you can’t tell me otherwise.
- Why the fuck are there students from all four houses in these damn classes.
- Thank god we have changed the super dumb Sirius’s-face-made-of-burning-bark thing.
- WHERE THE FUCK IS DOBBY UGH SEE WHEN YOU CUT A CHARACTER OUT OF EVERY FILM BUT THE ONE WHERE THEY DIE, YOU LOSE ALL THAT BUILT-UP EMOTION AND THAT IS WHY THIS DOESN’T WORK.
- Not having Peeves in any previous film means the literal best moment in the books (“GIVE HER HELL FROM US, PEEVES”) is cut and that is the greatest tragedy tbh.
- They were literally too lazy to build the hospital set, which means we lost Molly and Arthur being #RelationshipGoals and Neville’s mom giving him a gum wrapper for Christmas aka the most heartbreaking fucking moment ever. Also Kenneth Branagh.
- THEY LITERALLY DUMPING OUT PORTRAITS WITH ELIZABETHAN RUFFS LMAO #2017AF
- #FuckSnape, but his one moment of Not Being A Shitty Person is during Occlumency and I’m not sure why they cut this because Alan Rickman (RIP) would have killed it.
- Jason Isaacs is SUPERB and I would bang Lucius Malfoy tbh.
- Sans the whole Quidditch Ban plot, it makes zero sense why Harry doesn’t use his top-of-the-line Rich Kid broom to fly to London.
- Roland: “Also how are you all so chill about flying around on the invisible murder ponies since we never got to see you learn what they are?”
- The Death Eaters are all flying here, which apparently only Voldemort can do, WHICH THEY NEVER FUCKING EXPLAIN but they do make enough of a big deal out of it that it comes up in the horrifically terrible Cursed Child.
- Please observe this excellent shot of Lord Voldemort green-screened over a Karaoke Bar Background, AKA my favorite shot in this movie.