I won’t try to hide the fact that I find the whole “Harry Potter” franchise to be a tad underwhelming, if not just a little bit too juvenile in most of the things it does. The first “Harry Potter” movie did not exactly thrill me, and perhaps it was just a bit too long for its own good. The second movie, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, is once again a tad too long for its own good, but more importantly has once again been trumped by the gorgeous work of Peter Jackson and his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. No surprise, then, that I was blown away by “The Two Towers” while I found the latest installment in the “Potter” franchise (released, once again, in the same season) to be of mild interest and no more.
I don’t think my opinion, or the opinions of movie critics everywhere, matters when it comes to this movie. “Harry Potter” will do well regardless of what anyone says, because like “Rings”, the series has a built-in audience. This second installment in the “Potter” series is called “The Chamber of Secrets”, and brings Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) back to school after a year off. (Harry has gone back to live with his abusive cousins in the meantime, if you were wondering, and the trio remains terribly abusive to the poor boy.) Back at school, which Harry calls his “real home”, Harry rejoins the wealthy know-it-all Hermione (Emma Watson) and working class bonehead Ron (Rupert Grint), not to mention the blue blood and smarmy Draco (Tom Felton). And once again, magic has never looked so, er, unmagical.
The whole “Chamber of Secrets” thing refers to a secret chamber within the magical school Hogwarts. The chamber was created by one of the school’s original founders 1,000 years ago and is intended to secretly teach a selected group of students — mostly blue blood magic casters like Draco. The sequel posits that orphan Harry may be an unknowing member of this secret society, and a new power showcased by Harry — the ability to talk to snakes — seems to confirm this theory.
Like the original, the whole chamber plot doesn’t really appear until the second half, which leaves the first half (about an hour plus, since the movie again runs way too long at two hours and a half) devoted to Harry going through the same juvenile troubles that he went through in the first movie. Namely running into the so-cartoonishly-evil-he’s-silly Draco, who has brought along Draco Sr. played by Jason Isaacs (“The Tuxedo”) for evilness’s sake. And once again, poor Harry gets blamed for everything that goes wrong at the school, which leaves me to this conclusion: The supposed “great wizards” that run the school has less ability to investigate a crime than the Keystone cops. I mean, these guys are clueless!
The magic is, once again, so uncool. Why is it that in a movie about people casting magic left and right, almost no one does it? The only time Harry himself ever does anything magical is when he talks like a snake and shoots some rays out of his wand at Draco. And then there’s that whole flying on brooms and throwing balls into rings game, which does little except show that the franchise’s special effects has drastically improved over the original. The CGI and bluescreen work is much better this time around, but for the money they spent on this thing, I didn’t expect anything less.
Daniel Radcliffe once again returns as Harry Potter. The kid is starting to grow, and his voice will probably change before the third movie is finished. Emma Watson’s Hermione continues to sound clever but really doesn’t do much, and Rupert Grint’s Ron continues to play the goofball, but remains the franchise’s only real treat. Of note is Kenneth Branagh, who shows up as a braggart wizard who is obviously not nearly as talented as he keeps saying he is. The late Richard Harris also returns as the school’s headmaster, and looks every bit as frail as he feels in real life. (Harris would die in 2002, the same year the movie was released, and before the third installment was finished.)
As I previously said, it doesn’t really matter what I say about this film. Kids will continue to love all the silly parts of it. The back and forth between Harry and Draco is just groan inducing for adults, but the kids will eat it up. Although I was a bit struck by how complex the film’s whole Chamber of Secrets plot is. Not that it’s hard to understand, mind you, but it does seem a bit too much for the franchise’s core audience — kids. And “Chamber of Secrets” definitely has more violence than the first. A scary, giant snake chases Harry through some sewer pipes and there’s bloodshed by way of a sword. Also, some kids get nearly killed, including one of the main leads.
Of course, when all is said and done, everyone goes home happy. Although I have to wonder if poor Harry has to go back to live with his abusive guardians again. Isn’t there such a thing as child welfare in England? There’s enough emotional abuse there for a dozen adults!
Chris Columbus (director) / J.K. Rowling (novel), Steven Kloves (screenplay)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe …. Harry Potter
Emma Watson …. Hermione
Rupert Grint …. Ron
Toby Jones …. Dobby the House Elf