Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Almost exactly one year after the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, which went on to become one of highest grossing films of all time, the little wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) is back at Hogwarts for one more year of wonder and danger. With bumbling Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and know-it-all Hermione (Emma Watson) tagging along, Potter sets out to discover the secret of the mysterious Chamber of Secrets, which has apparently been opened and unleashed a monster who petrifies anyone who comes face to face with it…

Chris Columbus returns behind the camera and once again he does a good but unexceptional job. Apparently unable to actually adapt J.K. Rowling‘s ever more rambling novels, Columbus tries to include all the silly sideplots and the ever growing gallery of characters of the book, which makes for an unnecessarily long movie. Whoever heard of 160-minute kiddie flicks? Even the exposition-heavy first film was ten minutes shorter… “Chamber of Secrets”, the book and the film, suffers from the sequel syndrome of feeling the obligation to return to all the successful elements of the original. So we get another Quidditch match (admittedly still pretty damn cool), another nighttime visit into the woods and another showdown in the bowels of the school.

Still, one must admit that despite its flaws, the movie still entertains and even amazes on occasion. There are some genuinely thrilling special FX sequences involving such things as a flying car, an angry tree, hordes of spiders, a really big snake and the completely computer animated Doddy, a masochist house elf. Also interesting is the heavy racial subtext of a villain who targets only “mudbloods”, i.e. wizards of “impure” blood born from Muggle parents.

Daniel Radcliffe is growing more confident as Potter and holds his own nicely in the middle of all the madness, and I find Emma Watson endearing as Hermione, but Rupert Grint’s endless grimacing and squeaky-voiced whining can get a bit annoying. The rest of the returning cast members (Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, the late Richard Harris…) don’t get much to do, but in just a few reaction shots Alan Rickman‘s Professor Snape conveys more contemptuous superiority and malevolence than newcomer Jason Isaacs (playing Draco Malfoy’s father) does through all his one-note cartoon villainy. Faring better is Kenneth Branagh, perfectly cast as Gilderoy “Magical Me” Lockhart, Hogwarts’ amusingly pretentious new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.