*Disclaimer: Review contains spoilers
Release date: November 15th, 2002
Written by: Steve Kloves
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Toby Jones, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, and Mark Williams.
After Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became such a huge critical and financial success, work soon began on it’s sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When released, it received favorable reviews and mirrored the reviews the first film had received, but it seems now people consider it one of the lesser films of the series and not as good as the first film. Personally, I find it to be an improvement.
The film starts with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) back with his Aunt and Uncle before the school year starts. On evening he is visited by a House Elf named Dobby (Toby Jones). Dobby warns him of terrible things that will happen this coming year at Hogwarts. Dobby begs Harry not to go to Hogwarts for the year. Naturally, Harry refuses. Some hi-jinx ensue, and the end result is Harry’s Uncle being so pissed off at Harry that he refuses to let him go to Hogwarts. He’s quickly busted out by Ron (Rupert Grint), but later on the two can’t get through to platform 9 and 3/4. They end up driving a flying car to Hogwarts instead, in the process they risk exposing the wizard world to muggles. Because of this, they fear they’ll be expelled from Hogwarts, but fortunately they are not. Later in the year, we discover the terrible things Dobby was speaking of. Students are being found petrified, and threatening messages are being on the walls. Messages talking about the heir of Slytherin and the Chamber of Secrets. So of course, Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) try to deduce who the heir is and how to stop them.
The first thing that really impressed me about the film is how much the effects had improved. Dobby is an entirely CG character, but the CGI holds up and he looks impressive. Dobby shows genuine emotion, and moves fairly naturally. It’s not as good as the CG on Gollum that was seen the same year in The Two Towers, but it’s impressive none the less. Like Gollum though, the most impressive thing about Dobby isn’t the effect, it’s the character itself. Dobby is a strange, quirky, and amusing creature. He’s funny, but he’s also a really sad and pitiful character. Toby Jones breathes more life into the character with his very memorable voice work.
Most of the major characters from the first film return. Of the three leads, there isn’t really any massive improvement from any of them. You can tell they have a year’s experience under their belts, but overall the characters don’t go much further than they had gone last film. I did like that Harry became more of a hero in this one. He seemed smarter, more resourceful, and more heroic in this one than in the last, and he and Ron don’t need to rely on Hermione as much. One thing I will say is Ron got on my nerves a lot more in this film. He seems to be whining in almost every scene he’s in. I find this the fault of director Chris Columbus. Columbus could have easily told Grint to pull back his acting in those scenes, but he didn’t.
One actor who had a major improvement, for me anyway, was Richard Harris as Dumbledore. It’s hard to explain why I liked him so much more in this, he doesn’t really change his performance too drastically from the last film. He just seems to be more alive, where in the last film at times he felt rather cold and robotic. He’s much more fun to watch than before. The rest of the returning cast are all more or less the same as before. Hagrid is still loving, Snape is still menacing, Filch is still creepy, etc.
New to the cast is Kenneth Branagh (who directed this year’s Thor) as Gilderoy Lockhart, famous for his books depicting his adventures and exploits. He’s become the defense against the dark arts teacher. Despite his fame and fortune, it’s clear from the beginning Lockhart is completely incompetent as a wizard. Branagh does a good job playing the character, he’s very pompous and overall amusing to watch. Branagh sells the character well, but the Lockhart character is one of the biggest problems in the film. While he’s fun to watch, I can’t understand why he was hired at Hogwarts. All the staff can see how useless Lockhart is, and I can’t fathom why the wise and powerful Dumbledore decided he’d be a good pick for defense against the dark arts. Another new character I didn’t like was Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy feels really over the top and there’s no subtlety to his character. I know Isaacs does a better job in the later films, so I’m going to blame this on Columbus as well.
A major issue I had with the first film was the run time. While I was worried, I was confident that this one would be shorter. The last film had to introduce all the characters, the wizarding world, general back story, and the film’s own story. But here, everything is established, so it’s gotta be shorter, right? Nope, two and a half hours yet again. I wanna say something about long films now. I have no problem inherently with films that are long. Heat, The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Dark Knight, any Lord of the Rings films; all these films have long run times, and all are among my all time favourite films. But they had enough substance to justify such a long run time. As good as Chamber is, two and a half hours is a lot, and the film does drag in spots, especially after the climax where you almost just waiting for the film to end.
With all my complaining about run time, I do feel it flows better than Philosopher’s Stone did. Steve Kloves script is pretty good, and the story here is more interesting. There’s a mystery you’re trying to sold, and the reveal that it was Ginny (under the control of Voldemort) who opened the Chamber of Secrets, is genuinely smart and surprising. The story is also a lot darker and more tense than in the last film, and I found myself more invested this time around. There are some minor plot holes, for instance, how did Ron no Harry needed to be broken out of his home? But overall, this is a much tighter script than in the last film.
Unlike last film, this one has a pretty good climax. Harry is in the Chamber of Secrets alone. Ron has been blocked off and Hermione is petrified. Harry finds Ginny, as well as the memory of Tom Riddle, who we find out his Voldemort. Voldemort then calls a Basilisk, a giant snake essentially, who kills people when they look into it’s eyes. The Basilisk has it’s eyes gorged out, giving Harry an edge, but the Basilisk can still hear Harry. This scene is really tense and you really feel like Harry’s in trouble. Harry ends up wielding a sword, and kills the Basilisk by stabbing it through the mouth. Harry then takes one of the Basilisk’s poison tipped teeth, and uses it to destroy Riddle’s diary, and consequently save Ginny from Voldemort.
This is a great climax and I actually think it’s pretty epic. It’s certainly better than the climax to Philosopher’s Stone. But after that, the film sort of loses steam. I will say the moment after where Harry frees Dobby from the Malfoys is great. What Harry did was pretty clever, and I doubt I’d of thought of that in the moment like he did. The way Harry reveals to Lucius what he did is equally clever. But for the most part, after the climax, the film goes on for an additional fifteen minutes when it could have gone for only five.
Overall, while Chamber of Secrets is an improvement over Philosopher’s Stone, it’s not as big a leap as I would have liked. It improves on several of the first film’s problems, but it also brings it’ on flaws to the table. Still, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is an enjoyable and superior sequel, and was the series first primitive steps toward darker story telling.
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