Harry Potter is about to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School, but it's been nearly eight years since the original cast and crew started filming the first movie.
With age and experience, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" brings a more powerful and convincing set of characters than any of its predecessors.
I hadn't been sitting in my seat for two minutes before it appeared our older, taller and buffer hero, played by Daniel Radcliffe, was in a schoolyard scene that looked like a British version of the early '90s classic "The Sandlot."
Potter is being bullied by his cousin Dudley and his cohorts in a park in Little Whinging, and the bullying continues as Potter struggles to convince his friends and colleagues that the return of the evil Lord Voldemort, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, is imminent.
Potter appears more high school outcast than hero-wizard, and the line between the real world and fantasy is blurred. Potter is not only trying to protect himself and his friends against Voldemort, he's also an everyday teenager dealing with some of the harsh realities of adolescence.
But not all the realities of youth are harsh. Potter finally receives his much-ballyhooed first kiss in this installment, from his longtime crush, Cho Chang, played by Katie Leung. The kiss was sweet, but on the wet side, and complete with a Hogwarts version of Christmas mistletoe.
Then the sunlight fades quickly and the sky turns to gloom and doom. I felt I was in for a horror movie rather than a trip down Hogwarts hall. I noticed a young boy sitting next to me with his dad. He had a gaping smile and he was fully dressed in "Potter"-gear with his wizard cape and "Potter" spectacles. I decided if he can do it, I can do it.
Potter's troubles begin when he's attacked by skeletonlike creatures, or Dementors, draped in midnight-gray cloaks. There were a few moments that made me jump, but the Dementors were no villains or spectors I hadn't seen before.
They reminded me of the Nazgul, or Ringwraiths, of "The Lord of the Rings." The scene ends when Potter fends them off with a charm. And not just any charm, but a Patronus Charm.
Like underage alcohol consumption in the United States, it is illegal for wizards to perform the Patronus Charm under age and in the presence of muggles or civilians. It is this illegal act that brings Potter back to his wizarding world, where he narrowly avoids expulsion, and tries to convince authorities and classmates that Voldemort is on the move and must be stopped.
There are a few new faces in this film, most notably Dolores Umbridge, brilliantly played by Imelda Staunton. Hers is a heavy name to a heavy title. She's the senior undersecretary to the minister and later becomes the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts.
Only don't expect any lessons like the ones Miyagi taught. Umbridge is more concerned about the art of un-defense, and discovering secret activities on campus; her hideous frumpy pink outfits add drama to her haunting proclamations. As a result, the students opt to make Potter their unofficial tutor.
I was excited when I read Helena Bonham Carter was joining the cast, but was disappointed by her under use. Though she played her part like a genius, the wide-eyed prison escapee, Bellatrix Lestrange, she is only in a couple of scenes.