With just a week to go until the release of the final Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II, ET and I are looking back and review all the HP movies, from The Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's for us Yanks) to Part I. Today, it falls upon me to review and look back on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second chapter in the saga, and probably the weakest of the lot.
Here's an analogy for ya'll who have never watched the second film to the series: Chamber of Secrets is to Harry Potter as Attack of the Clones is to Star Wars: both movies are considered the weakest entries to the series, and both have their share of problems, with one big difference separating the two entries, but more on this later. Chamber of Secrets actually begins with promise: there's a more menacing tone which occasionally rises to the surface of the movie, especially when Harry experiences Floo Powder for the fist time, and with near disastrous results as he ends up in Knockturn Alley. This simmering of darkness continues as Potter is transported to the past with the help of a former Hogwarts student who's been able to preserve himself in the pages of a diary for nearly half a century, and witnesses Hagrid's shameful past brought to life as a former student of the school's walls. The movie itself feels more thrilling and nervier than its predecessor, like the film's rousing Quidditch match, as our young hero has to juggle beating Malfoy from catching the Golden Snitch and dodging a bludger that's gone south on his British ass. And two new characters add depth to the already impressive talent of British actors. As Gildory Lockhart, the ego-driven author and new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Kenneth Branagh is a delight to watch on screen. Watching him teach the class about Cornish Pixies and having them go hog-wild on him is devilishly fun. The other new character is Lucius Malfoy, played with subtle scumbaggery by Jason Issacs. His scene where he meets Potter and friends for the first time in a bookstore makes you see the internal wounds inflicts on everyone without hamming it up for the audience. Lastly, there's a sense of comradeship between the three leads - Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione - a bond which becomes more fun and poignant as the series progresses.
Having said all that: many of the problems that appeared in Philosopher's Stone are still present in Chamber of Secrets: director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves take a hat-in-hand approach to adapting the novels: It really feels as if we are watching a near word for word retelling of the novel, rather than either person giving off their vision for the movie. The pacing suffers as a result, and Chamber drags on for almost three hours. The simmering darkness that came through in certain scenes in the film never really burst out, they're sprinkled in there as a tease for the audience. As soon as we become more interested, the movie switches back to its candy-assed version, where everyone's performing magic and either Ron or Nevelle do something funny with magic that gets either student into hot water. The last scene where Hagrid returns to the Great Hall, which starts as a soft golf clap but quickly becomes a thunderous applause from the students, is saccharine overkill.
Yet at the end of the day, despite the film's biggest flaws, Chamber of Secrets leaves Potterheads at King's Cross, only wishing for the next train back to Hogwarts. Its more disappointment, rather than disaster, unlike Attack of the Clones, which was a clusterfuck all the way up until the last leg, where we're spared 35-40 minutes of terrible dialog and become involved in the rescue of Obi Wan, Anakin and Padme which quickly becomes the first battle in the Clone Wars. Also, Harry was never a whiny, complaining little bitch, unlike Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker.