Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Release Date: November 15th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Chris Columbus Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Felton, Fiona Shaw, Jason Isaacs, John Cleese, Alan Rickman
he second film in the Harry Potter franchise once again does a decent job of adapting the novel, although as with most conversions, several pieces just don’t receive proper attention, resulting in contrivances that are difficult to justify (despite the lengthy running time). The adoption of the series’ own Jar Jar Binks character (in the form of Dobby the elf) isn’t the keenest of choices, while more moments of Quidditch (appearing solely for consistency) and a terribly annoying screeching ghost make this the subpar “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” equivalent chapter in this saga. It’s still fun, but noticeably less involving and less intelligent.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) itches to be reunited with his friends at the Hogwarts School for wizardry training, but wonders why he hasn’t received any letters from pals Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) during the break after his freshman year. The answer comes in the form of Dobby, a lowly, abused house elf slave who rants in third person. In short order, Harry returns to his classmates and teachers, including Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), good friend Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and a new Dark Arts defense instructor, Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh). It’s immediately apparent – and not only from Dobby’s warnings – that something or someone doesn’t want Potter to return to the school; but Hogwarts is his real home now, and the young wizard won’t let bad omens stop him from newfound adventures.
Building on tales from the past, this episode also chronicles one of the original Hogwarts founders, Salazar Slytherin, who wished to be more selective with prospective students but failed to convince the other leaders. When Slytherin departed from the school for such differences in practices, he built a secret chamber somewhere on the grounds, waiting to be discovered by his heir; its opening was orchestrated to disastrously purge the impure, half-blooded wizard occupants of the great castle. With Hermione and Ron in tow (or sometimes in the lead), the main trio sets about uncovering history repeating itself, the mysteries of an old diary, and the terrors of the hidden lair.
Most of the actors appear to have grown up a little too much in the interim, but it serves Radcliffe well, especially when his character has evolved to be more courageous, confident, and outspoken. Rival wizard trainee Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has become even more of a ruffian, while his insensitive, clearly conflicted father (Jason Isaacs) makes his first appearance. Many more characters also debut in this second chapter, fattening up the number of family members, acquaintances, bit parts, and Harry Potter lore in general. Like many sequels, it remains essential to have seen the first film to appreciate the continuing storylines and further development of the leads.
With angry Womping Willow trees, pixies, monstrous talking spiders, better magic potions, screeching mandrake roots, and a mighty basilisk, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” continues to borrow from Greek mythology, “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” and more. It’s a unique combination that mixes in a little of everything; unfortunately, as Harry faces more formidable foes, he receives new, overly manipulated weapons of protection. This time around, the humor and family-friendly fun can’t overcome the annoying supporting characters and repetition from the previous picture. One can’t help but feel this is partly due to Rowling’s second novel embracing slightly sillier ideas, despite the intended subtle maturation of the roles.
– Mike Massie