Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Day 2 and we’re predictably entering the Chamber of Secrets. What the hell are you looking up here for? The review’s below.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

  General consensus is that Chamber of Secrets is one of the worst Potter films, if not the worst. I’m really not sure why. It’s got the same basic flaws as Philosopher’s Stone, but improves on the first Potter outing in a few substantial ways. Could this be instance #12365486906 of me being right and everyone else being wrong? Not my place to say, really- but it’s obvious the answer is yes.

“Enemies of the Heir Beware”? You’ll be next, mudbloods.”

After considerable difficulty thanks to Dobby the House Elf (voiced by Toby Jones), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts to find that there’s a new danger to student safety. After learning that the school’s legendary “Chamber of Secrets” has beenre-opened and has released some kind of terrifying creature into the school halls, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) strive to get to the bottom of the mystery. Time’s against them though as more and more students are being frozen in a corpse-like state. Since Quirrell turned out to be housing Voldemort under his turban and ended up as an ashpile after Harry touched him (an early contender for “weirdest sentence I wrote in 2013”), the vacant Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher position is taken up by smarmy celebrity wizard Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh). The plot is a lot more interesting than Philosopher’s Stone. There are some decent twists and turns and it’s not afraid to go darker, something which the first film only had elements of.

At this point in the series, the main kids still aren’t great. D-Rad still reads his lines like he’s recovering from a back-alley lobotomy and Rupert Grint is suddenly intent on overacting, often pulling cartoonish looks that undermine the fairly understated work he did in the previous one. Emma Watson has improved, although only by a smidge. Good thing Tom Felton’s here to show the kids how it’s done. He hams up Draco considerably in this one and the film’s all the better for it. He’s genuinely funny too. Good on him. Of the new additions to the cast, Branagh is great as Lockhart, giving us an air-headed smug bellend to actively hate. Jason Isaacs also gives us a fantastic turn as Draco’s icy father Lucius. One little scene with him and you understand entirely why Draco’s such a jumped-up little shit. Mark Williams also gives us an incredibly likable Weasley patriarch. Miriam Margolyes also adds to the already incredible Brit-cred of the cast with her appearance as Professor Sprout. Toby Jones does well as the voice of Dobby, but unfortunately the character belongs more down the Jar-Jar end of the CGI character scale than he does up the other end with Gollum and Sarah Jessica Parker. Sure, he’s there for kid appeal, but by all that is unholy, he’s irritating. I suppose the only other qualm I have is the casting of Shirley Henderson as the ghostly Moaning Myrtle. It’s an odd choice to have an actor clearly in their late thirties play a schoolgirl, albeit a thoroughly dead one. Henderson is fine as she is, but it’s a baffling decision. It’s a real shame that this is Richard Harris’ last turn as Dumbledore. To be honest, I found that his Dumbledore was a lot closer to the literary version than Gambon’s. That’s just personal preference though.

The film does not start well. D-Rad flatly clunks out his lines to Hedwig before being called downstairs where they keep the real actors. We have some fun with them and Harry goes upstairs only to find the irritating Dobby being irritating. Acting with a pure CGI creation is a tough challenge for a good actor, so his scene with Dobby is painful for me to watch. After Harry gets busted out of Chez Dursley, the film thankfully gets a lot better.

I find Chamber of Secrets to be a hell of a lot more watchable than Philosopher’s Stone. There are loads of great scenes and neat little touches. A favourite of mine is Lockhart’s first lesson where he causes havoc by releasing a cageful of Cornish pixies onto an unsuspecting class of kids. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that amongst the squeaking and fluttering, some the pixies have strong Cornish accents- a detail which I’d missed up until now and laughed my head off at. The wizard duel between Snape and Lockhart and then Potter and Malfoy is fantastically done too. Quidditch is better handled this time round, with the advances in technology leading to a more convincing and exciting spectacle. With Harry being cursed and nearly falling off his broom in the first one, having a rogue Bludger hound him in this one and the knowing what’s to come in the next films, I have to ask- does Potter ever get to play a “normal” game of Quidditch where some bastard isn’t trying to do him in? I’ll pay attention to that as the films go on. The scene where Ron and Harry meet the fuckin’ massive spider Aragog (voiced by Julian Glover) and are surrounded by hundreds of other huge spiders is downright skin-crawling- even to a non arachnophobe like me. Especially a shot where Ron looks up at dozens of the creepy bastards webbing down from the trees. Brr. I think Chamber‘s finale is also more satisfying than the last film’s with Potter actually using his brawn and his brain rather than just dumb luck alone.

“Well, take a good look lads. This night might well be the last you spend in this castle. Oh dear, we are in trouble.”

I’m going to be controversial and give Chamber of Secrets 4 stars. Why? Well, it’s significantly better than the first film. Don’t just argue with me on principle, go back and watch the first two films. Chamber of Secrets is a more assured and accomplished film. It does what any good sequel should do- takes the building blocks the first one made and makes something fun out of them. Shut up, general movie-going public- I have spoken.

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