Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is now twelve. Absence clearly hasn’t made the Dursley’s hearts grow fonder as, after one year away at school, they still treat Harry like the menacing, lying, thieving, potentially disease-ridden delinquent he obviously isn’t. So they throw him in a cage. But never fear, Ron (Rupert Grint), senses something is wrong when Harry doesn’t answer his hand-written letters, and he steels a car to rush to Harry’s aid. Having been twelve once myself, this sounds like a fairly standard breakout. Now older, I can agree with Harry’s preference of launching himself out a window into a flying car rather than spend another minute with that god awful wallpaper.
Back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry there is a new enemy roaming the corridors; the heir of Slytherin has returned. Frequent attacks on muggle-born witches and wizards have turned the school into a dangerous place (because the neighbouring werewolves, poisonous plants, and high-speed broom chases are otherwise acceptable features of the student experience). Harry’s worst fears are about to be realized: Hogwarts may close – forever. This and the fact that the castle walls start speaking to him prompts Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) to track down whoever is behind the attacks and make them stop… and confirm Harry isn’t schizophrenic.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is still technically grounded in the children’s section of this cinematic series. The humour is childish and uses Ron’s squeaky puberty voice to its full potential. The adults outside the castle also exaggerate their performances to make their characters as animated as possible – like stage actors. Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams), and Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh) stretch every movement and emphasize every line as if their audience were sitting in the back balcony at the Stratford theatre. To make sure you never miss a single plot point, they deliver important lines like, “Now that history IS TO REPEAT ITSELF,” with obvious intensity, wink wink, nudge n-elbow to the chest.
It’s true the humour is a little forced and cheesy – that is until The Chamber of Secrets takes a left turn throwing us knee-deep into a cave of giant spiders and rat bones. Delightful. Toss in some man-eating bats and you’ve got the full nightmare trifecta. The Chamber of Secrets pulls a classic Harry Potter twist and goes from cute and staged to an escape through the woods from hungry, venomous carnivores intent on “siahath sieth sachi”-ing your eyeballs. Pardon my language.
The Chamber of Secrets feels a bit smoother than The Philosopher’s Stone, which had an issue with jumpy scene changes and quick takes. We occasionally still leap to the point a little too suddenly – as when Harry, sent to wait in Dumbledore’s office after being accused of murder, B-lines it to the Sorting Hat to waste a few minutes in soul searching. I can’t speak from personal experience (being more of a Hermione myself), but I find it hard to believe that the first thing on Harry’s mind after being sent to the Headmaster’s office to await a life sentence in prison is, “Hat; who am I?”
This second Harry Potter film feels like a set-up for the rest of the series. So many pieces come out of this story that are important later on. On its own, The Chamber of Secrets is a mixture of humour, childish antics, kooky adults, kidnapping, mind control, and dying a painful death. There is also some quidditch. The Chamber of Secrets should not begin or end your Harry Potter marathon, but should be comfortably sandwiched between The Philosopher’s Stone and The Prisoner of Azkaban. It sits at a 6/10.