The one with the dumb snake language.
Before I begin the review of the second Harry Potter film I should warn that these reviews are going to contain spoilers.
This time around we get to see Harry and friends deal with a menacing threat that is putting students in danger. Harry, Ron, and Hermione must race against time to figure out the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, and they only have Dumbledore, Hagrid, and the idiotic Lockhart (played excellently by Kenneth Branagh) to help them.
I would watch a movie about this guy.
But wait! Before we get to do any actual magic, or see anything resembling a plot, we are once again stuck with the Dursley’s for the opening of the film. Apparently, establishing that Harry is from an abusive household in the first film isn’t enough, and we are in for more antics. Unfortunately, as the series progresses these interactions become more slapstick, and instead of conveying acts of cruelty they become an opportunity for cheap jokes. Perhaps the most powerful element of the narrative is undermined by these moments.
Chamber of Secrets goes the extra step by introducing the worst character in a fantasy film since Jar-Jar Binks. The house elf Dobby is the most insufferable character in the entire series, and his frustrating presence brings the film to a halt. The first ten minutes of the film are absolutely stupid, and quite painful to watch. I cannot fully explain how much this character ruins every scene he is in.
The film is not done when Harry is rescued by Ron, nope, for about another twenty minutes we have our characters wandering around. If you ever wondered where this film could crop its bloated 2:40:00 run time, here is an example. We get to see how the poor Weasley’s live, and the film doesn’t bother to explain why they are poor. We also never get any insight into why the Potters are so wealthy. Money seems arbitrary in this world, and with the cure-all of magic to do just about everything the addition of the poor characters is a cheap and lazy attempt at diversity.
When the characters finally get to the magical world in earnest, we are introduced to Gilderoy Lockhart, who despite his ineptness, steals every scene he is in. (Certainly doesn’t hurt that Branagh fully embraces the character). Lockhart is the type of character who is easy to love and hate at the same time, and his ceaseless self-worship is a sight to behold.
We are introduced to many new characters, and this time around the world has been established, so there is a bit less exposition. We meet bleach-haired douche Draco’s equally one dimensional father, Lucius. Who gives Ginny Weasley Tom Riddles diary (why, you may ask: who knows, pry for lulz). Given the importance of the artifact that is forced into the narrative in a later entry this seems to be a pretty stupid move on the villain’s part. Every evil scheme in this series is so half-baked that it is almost like they all could tell how incompetent the authorities are.
This is not to say that this film does not have some high points. Ron and Harry must borrow the Weasley’s family car (which can fly) to get to Hogwarts, and this sequence is cinematic gold. The action and humor seam together in a great way, and for the first time since the movie’s start, it seems the narrative is hitting a groove. Funny and exciting set pieces are one of Columbus’ strong points, and this is one where he uses all of his talents.
Columbus tries to be as faithful to the source material as possible, and this is a good and bad thing. There are a lot of threads in the film that simply don’t need to be there. Short and empty scenes might not matter much individually, but compiled they create an overlong, oddly paced, and honestly boring chunks in an otherwise competent mystery. The heir of Slytherin is at Hogwarts and non-pure bloods are in danger, but oh shit we better get in some Quidditch—what?
The intrigue of the film is presented in heavy-handed chunks. We learn that Harry can talk to snakes, there is a blood feud between mages, Hagrid has a troubled past, Lucius has a political agenda, Dobby should never have existed, ghosts serve as McGuffins, and that magic has no bounds. The polyjuice potion—a brew that can make someone transform into another person for as long as the plot needs—is brought in as a shortcut to get exposition out of Draco.
The mystery might be simple, but it is fun. Just when interest starts to increase to great levels the film reintroduces Dobby, and we are dragged back down. The film goes from low-to-high in a matter of minutes, as Harry’s venture into the diary to see a young Tom Riddle is another high point of the film. As well as the whole spider debacle.
Another thing that the film does right is we get to see Harry and Ron working without the aid of magical encyclopedia Hermione. I like all three of the main characters, but only having two of them do the bulk of the work made it feel different from the first entry.
Having the same director (and most of the same crew) makes the film feel like a true connection to the first entry. The continuity is nice, but the flaws remain the same (and in some cases amplified). I believe the first film cast a wider net for audiences, this one is certainly more aimed for Harry Potter fans specifically. 6/10