Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Directed by Chris Columbus

Artistic Value: * * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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When Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts School of magic for his second year, a number of students are mysteriously petrified and rumors begin to spread that an ancient Chamber of Secrets hidden somewhere on the school grounds has been opened and a monster living within it has been released.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chris Columbus' second film in the Harry Potter series, is as successful and enjoyable as is the first, having essentially the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor does.

Like the original, much of the film consists of depictions of Harry's daily activities, but these are enlivened by the character's relationships with his friends and teachers, his conflicts with his rivals, the presence of myriads of supernatural beings, and the occurrence of various strange events. The viewer is treated not only to the glimpses of the ghosts, living portraits, moving stairways, and the like of the first film but is also shown a violent "whomping" willow tree, giant spiders, a phoenix, a haunted toilet, a mysterious monster, a wizard's duel, flying pixies, screaming, writhing mandrake roots like gnarled, woody babies, a troublesome, masochistic house elf, transformations of animals into water goblets, and more.

These elements are made particularly appealing by the director's not having coated them with layers of innocuous, sugary cuteness, as is often done in movies intended for younger audiences, which, in order to mollify overprotective parents, tend to be, at once, wretchedly bland and unpleasantly sweet. In fact, frightening elements are more prominent in The Chamber of Secrets than they were in the first film, and their presence makes watching the sequel an exciting, even exhilarating experience. For instance, a sequence occurring in the wood outside the school is surprisingly alarming for something found in a film aimed at children, and Chris Columbus deserves some praise for including it. Most children, I should add, will find this, and Harry's other adventures, wonderfully enjoyable, as will most adults. The dangers Harry faces give us a sense of his bravery, of his genuine heroism and decency, and his troubles engender in us feelings of sympathy. Columbus would have been far less successful in evoking such emotions had he made a milder, less interesting film.

What is more, the performances given in the movie are surprisingly accomplished and significantly contribute to its enjoyableness. The young actors are generally more comfortable in their roles than they were in the first film, and all bring to the sequel the same charm and to the characters the same feel they did before. The older actors again support the children with their portrayals of their eccentric characters but are, however, somewhat less interesting than they were in the first movie. Snape (Alan Rickman), in particular, is simplified, being reduced here to little more than a menacing villain. Dumbledore (Richard Harris) is essentially the same as he was in the first film, and nothing more, although Harris does do a nice job of portraying the quirky old schoolmaster. Kenneth Branagh, who plays the school's conceited and inept new teacher, is often annoying, but he is intended to annoy. His presence is uncomfortable for the viewer, but it is meant to be so.

Visually and stylistically, The Chamber of Secrets is much the same as The Sorcerer's Stone. While neither film is wonderfully beautiful, both are constantly engaging and are among the better children's films to have been made, being good enough to be as appealing to adults as they are to children. While the first film is buoyed up by its introducing the viewer to the magical world of Hogwarts, a feat the second film cannot replicate, The Chamber of Secrets marginally improves on the first film's virtues and watching it is, consequently, as enjoyable an experience.

Review by Keith Allen

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