Second 'Harry Potter' film better than the first
By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
Once again directed by Chris Columbus and written by Steve Kloves, "Chamber of Secrets" is, if anything, even more elaborate and, in its own way, more magical than "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The special effects in this film are stunning, while the plotting is pleasingly complex without being too complicated to follow. At nearly three hours, it does seem a bit long but making it any shorter would have meant excising crucial plot points and, perhaps, even characters that appear in the book.
In this story, young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, who looks like he's hit puberty in the intervening year) is back in the British home of his wretched relatives, the Dursleys. Upset that he hasn't received any mail all summer from his school mates, he gets an unexpected visit from a house-elf named Dobby, who warns Harry that, should he return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year, he will be in grave danger. For good measure, Dobby crashes the Dursleys' dinner party, leading to Harry's confinement under house arrest by his obnoxious aunt and uncle.
Quicker than you can say, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," however, Harry's pal Ron Weasley and his brothers turn up in a flying car to rescue him from his muggle (non-magic) relatives. But Harry's attempt to get on the train to Hogwarts is foiled, so Harry and Ron must borrow the flying car to get back to school.
Even then, the year bodes ill for Harry. Dark forces are at work and, before long, Harry's embroiled in another mystery.
The filmmakers had a tough task incorporating the various magic creatures (most of which are computer-generated) into the real world of Harry and company. That's particularly true of Dobby, a character with the potential to be this series' equivalent of "Star Wars"' Jar Jar Binks: annoying and obtrusive. But Dobby turns out to have comic spunk and just enough of a naughty edge to amuse young viewers without threatening the film's PG rating.
The trio of young actors who play Harry and his pals Ron and Hermione Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all look and sound a year older. But they also seem to slip back into these roles the way one would a comfortable pair of shoes. They give the characters a depth and gravity that grounds the more comic material.
Kenneth Branagh nearly steals the film as Gilderoy Lockhart, one of Harry's teachers, and one wishes he were in many more scenes. The same is true of Alan Rickman, returning as potions professor Severus Snape. Jason Isaacs is another welcome addition as Lucius Malfoy with a white mane that makes him look like an Edwardian Johnny Winter.
In last year's showdown between wizards, "Harry Potter" turned out to be the fun choice, while "Lord of the Rings" captivated on a deeper level. The same is likely to be true this and next year.
Still, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is terrific fun, a sequel with more self-assurance than most original films can muster.
Rated PG for violence, mild language, frightening special effects.