Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Hogwarts, year two. Just when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) thinks he’s getting into the swing of things, everything just gets weirder. To start off, he has a difficult time arriving at school. A homely little elf (excuse me, house elf) named Dobby (Toby Jones) shows up in his bedroom to warn Harry of the apparent harm and possible death that awaits him at Hogwarts. He insists that Harry is too valuable to risk and tries to stop him from going – landing him into some serious trouble with his Aunt and Uncle (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw). Not to worry, BFF Ron (Rupert Grint) comes to break him out of the cage that is Number 4 Privet Drive. Buttt even with his wizard pals Harry has problems catching the train. The moment they do make it to school they’re branded with a near death sentence for being seen by Muggles in their flying car. Oh, and a rogue tree breaks Ron’s wand.
Turns out the little pillowcase-clad guy wasn’t so wrong. Students (and cats) are winding up “petrified” by an unknown beast and threatening blood-written messages coat the corridors of Hogwarts announcing the re-opening of The Chamber of Secrets. Harry teams up with his usual crew of Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson) to (singlehandedly) solve the ancient school mystery breaking a thousand more rules in the process. But it gets kinda difficult when everyone starts putting the blame on the boy who lived cuz he can talk to snakes. Or something.
It is a little bit difficult to leave out ANY comparisons. The material is golden, the book perfectly executes a fantastic plot. It’s hard for me to hate on the movie too much since they stick to the plot fairly well… it’s just not as well portrayed. My primary complaint is actually the overload of cheese and kid stuff. Like, last time I checked, the book did NOT end with a standing ovation and the entire great hall cheering for Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). It’s just unnecessary. But, alas, it still manages to match the charm and appeal of the book and improve on the first movie – exploding into one of the greatest movie franchises ever (and the most internationally successful).
Our kids are the same as they were in Sorcerer’s Stone, just more cracking voices. But they’re fine – and Harry has even improved. We’ve got plenty of new characters too – even Henry V Kenneth Branagh himself as our leading buffoon, new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and hero extraordinaire Gilderoy Lockhart. He is one of my favorite (favourite?) characters in the book and Branagh brilliantly brings him to life on screen. “Fame is a fickle friend, Harry. Celebrity is as celebrity does. Remember that.” You hate him so much that you love him. He approaches the bridge between tolerable hilarity and excess annoyance but only flirts with crossing. He’s the comic relief, though there’s really nothing too serious to “relieve” us from – the whole movie is as light as the first one. Yet he still manages to lift our spirits and deliver some awesome one liners.
Another more slippery addition is Jason Isaacs as Draco’s papa Lucius Malfoy. Whoever had the idea to give him long flowing white hair and a pre-pubescent clean-shaven look was a genius. To see Lucius’ character deteriorate into the coward that he is in the latest Potter installments (facial hair included) gives this fresh opening an entirely new meaning. He really was a wicked snake.
Sorcerer’s Stone was the introductory fairy tale. Chamber of Secrets is the slightly darker exploration piece. The entire 8-movie series is really just one big story. This one starts to delve into the bigger picture where its predecessor only briefly introduced it. We learn about the bigger-bad-guy Lord Voldemort’s past as a student at Hogwarts. We begin to understand Harry’s connection to the Dark Lord is a little bit more than just his parents’ murder. On top of that, we explore Harry’s dark side. Would he have been better suited for Slytherin house? Is he following the same path that young Tom Marvolo Riddle (Christian Coulson) did? Radcliffe does his character well, showing a conflicted, no longer wide-eyed boy facing more than his fair share of trials.
The magic too is deeper (even deeper than we know, yet). Harry and Draco finally get their chance to officially duel it out with more than “Expelliarmus” in Lockhart’s Dueling club [a good Snape moment… there was a serious lack of Alan Rickman boss-ness], Petrified victims are healed by screeching mandrake plants as procured by Professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes), Hermione surpasses her own genius by creating the Polyjuice Potion turning Harry and Ron into Draco’s goonies, Crabbe and Goyle (Jamie Waylett, Josh Herdman), replicas. Again, Rowling, I bow to your creativity.
The plot (grace of Lady Rowling) is a fast-paced, fun mystery. The epic conclusion is so rewarding with every twist and turn underlying the suspense. Even with its long running time, it still manages to briskly pass the audience by. I don’t know, I guess I just dig that kinda mystery stuff – the kind where the big reveal leaves you smacking your head at your own poor observation and anxious to re-watch it with a new perspective. That’s how it was the first time I read the book.
There’s a lot more action as well. Murderous spiders and larger than life snakes aren’t exactly your typical domestic animals. Overall, the special effects and stunts are great and Harry sure looks disgusting by the end. I guess battling in a sewer does that to you…
This review is a very jumbled cornucopia of thoughts, and I apologize for the longevity. The short of it is, Chamber of Secrets improves on the first one and leaves us even more tickled with magic. The actors grow into their roles and there’s some great action/adventure/mystery/humor goin’ on. Lastly, RIP Richard Harris. “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” You delivered one of Dumbledore’s best piece of wisdom better than Michael Gambon ever could. No offense. 7/10