Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

17 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When there is a list of most popular film franchises in the history of cinema, I believe there will be a spot for the “Harry Potter” films, based on the book series by J.K. Rowling. The first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was a triumph—I even called it a “classic.” And though I give the sequel—the film based on the second book of the series—the same star-rating as I gave its predecessor (four stars), I have to say that this film—entitled “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”—is even better than the first. The first film had a great deal of imagination in its visuals and in its storytelling and this second film has an even greater deal if you can believe it. It is, however, rather dark, just as “The Empire Strikes Back” was darker than “Star Wars.” Like the first film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is rated PG and has a great deal of terror in many sequences. About the first film, I wrote in my review that it’s scary but not too scary. However, some moments in this film should have qualified the film for a PG-13 rating—those said moments might give some children nightmares, but delight others.

We’ve already gotten to know the characters in the first film and now we care even more about what they go through here. We again meet young Harry Potter, a year older with a deeper voice and on the brink of adolescence, as you can tell. Then, we again meet his friends Ron and Hermione. They haven’t seen each other in a while—and neither have we, for that matter. Their personalities remain the same, with a few touches put into them. One of the great things about this movie is watching these characters grow in this sequel. And then we again meet those wonderful teachers at Hogwarts School—headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris, in his last role), gentle giant and gamekeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), always-mysterious Snape (Alan Rickman), and professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith). But there are new characters brought into this sequel—there is a teacher who explains of mandrakes (played by Miriam Margoyles), bully Draco Malfoy’s (Tom Felton) even-slimier father (Jason Issacs), and a celebrity wizard named Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) whose incredible resume (he wrote an autobiography called “Magical Me” as well a few other books about himself) brings him to Hogwarts to teach the class of defense against the dark arts. He’s more worried about feisty blue pixies messing up his self-portrait.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is better-treated by his Muggle relatives (if you recall, “Muggle” is the term for humans), but that’s not saying much. He has his own room, as long he stays inside while the relatives throw a party. While he is in his room to keep from interrupting a similar party downstairs, he is visited by a house elf named Dobby—a special-effects creature that punishes himself by beating himself up—who warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts, lest he put himself in danger. It turns out that there is danger. The mysterious Chamber of Secrets, said to be the home of a monster, has been opened and many students (as well as a cat and a ghost) have been petrified by the sight of the monster. There are many questions to be answered and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are the ones who stand alone to find out what is really happening. They band together to find clues and answers to all of the questions that need them. Eventually, Harry finds a diary by a Tom Marvolo Riddle that provides clues in ghostly handwriting and allows Harry to travel back 50 years into the past to find some answers. The kids also encounter a swarm of giant spiders, change into Draco Malfoy’s friends to question Malfoy, and more.

This film is more than well-made with Chris Columbus’ direction—it’s alive. It’s about something. The computer animation is no distraction at all because it makes the movie as visually interesting as the cast and the sets. They blend in very convincingly. Even the Quidditch game is put on a larger scale than in the first film and that’s a great accomplishment—it’s also even more exciting because Harry has to outrun a runaway ball called a Bludger while also trying to catch the Golden Snitch and win the game.

I love how all of the plot elements draw together and how everything is cleared in the end. This film also doesn’t set up for the next Harry Potter adventure. It doesn’t have to. If these two films were the only films in the Harry Potter film series, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was the setup and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is the payoff. The characters we’ve grown to love are brought into intriguing action sequences, brilliant sets, and a powerful action climax in the third half of the film. There is more than action to be found here—there is a heart and most importantly, a brain. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is a highly satisfactory sequel.

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