By Chris Campo
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second Harry Potter film, and to continue our series of Harry Potter reviews leading up to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them later this year, I watched it for the first time. I was incredibly excited about seeing this film, as I loved my first experience with Harry Potter in the last film. I put in the Blu-ray with a big goofy smile on my face, eagerly awaiting my return to Hogwarts. And how was my time at the Wizarding World? Well, continue reading to find out, but I will say that I am even more excited to watch the next film than ever before.
The second Harry Potter film picks up with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) back with his awful Aunt and Uncle, counting down the days until he returns to Hogwarts, or until he hears from his dear friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). While held up in his room being neglected by his muggle family, he is visited by a small, eccentric house elf named Dobby (Toby Jones), who warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts. Harry, ignoring the warnings, returns to the Wizarding World only to discover that there are many threats he must face, as well as an ominous voice in Harry's head. It's now up to Harry and his two friends to protect the people of Hogwarts they love (and some they don't) from the danger's that lie in the so-called Chamber of Secrets.
Let me break the news suddenly... I was disappointed by this film. It just has a lot of problems, and while it is in no way considered a bad movie in my book, something just felt off while watching it. I am, however, still absolutely incredibly excited for the third film, which I'll be watching soon, mostly because director Chris Columbus doesn't return to the directors chair. Now, Columbus is not a bad director, he's a rather good one, but I am excited for fresh blood in this franchise. Speaking of blood, this film is rather dark compared to the first, and that was a welcome change, but the problem with this film is that in terms of structure, it's far too similar to the first film.
I was quite uninterested for the majority of the first act. The first hour or so is almost beat for beat the first film. Harry get's rescued from his Aunt and Uncle's house, Harry goes to Diagon Alley, Harry goes to Hogwarts, and there's even a very similar, If not much better looking, match of Quidditch. Now, don't get me wrong, there was plenty of cute and memorable moments sprinkled throughout, but the similar structure took away some of the wonder I experienced during the first film. Even though I think the third act is by far the best part of this film, that too feels pretty similar to the finale of the first. One benefit of the film's structure is that the plot can be explored much earlier on, there's not as much setup as the first film. The Chamber of Secrets is mentioned very early on and that makes for a very mysterious threat over the course of the film's running time.
And what a running time that is. Clocking in at over 2 hours and 40 minutes, this is the longest Harry Potter film of the bunch, and my god was it noticeable. The film's pacing is off. While familiar, the first act moves pretty fast, and the third act also moves at a fun, comfortable pace, but the film's full of stretched out scenes that didn't do a great job at keeping my attention, causing it to get boring. Not overall, but just in certain scenes. I can't confirm, as I have not read the books, but I have read the cause of this issue is due to the fact that this film is overly loyal to the source material, including most of the content that is in the books. That may excite Harry Potter purists, although for someone like myself who is watching these for the first time as films, it can often feel like a chore.
Okay, I have been way too negative, so lets change that. This film still has amazing, and I mean AMAZING characters. From the main trio to the wonderful supporting characters, every character here feels even more real than in previous films. I want to mention a few characters in particular, starting off with Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). He was a little brat in the first film, and that certainly doesn't change here, but I found him much more interesting in the sequel. He's just a kid so he's not too much of a threat yet, but with what they seem to be setting up with him, and his family, I can't wait. Another character that surprised me was Dobby. When you first meet him, he's a bit annoying (JACK NOTE: how dare you, Chirs), but he absolutely grows on you. There's a scene with him in the closing minutes that is probably my favorite scene in this whole film.
Another thing I want to mention, and this will be quick, is the special effects. While the sets and the makeup work are still astonishing, the filmmakers truly pulled no punches with improving the film's CGI work. The action scenes in this film are much better than in its predecessor, and that's because of the new and improved special effects. In the third act of the film, there's an enthralling battle with a serpent and it looks way ahead of it's time. Also ahead of it's time is Dobby. Dobby is a fully CGI character and he works. It's not to far off from more modern films that feature full CGI characters. Needless to say that the film was visually a treat.
Overall, this second Harry Potter film didn't wow me like the first film, but because I know that the franchise is heading in a new direction with a new director, I still am craving the future films. This film is by no means awful, it just has a few kinks a little time in the editing room would have sorted out. This world is still magical and amazing. I continue to be mad at myself over the fact that I had not seen these films sooner. With that all said, I can now look forward to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and you can look forward to our review next weekend.