Written by: Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis
The second year, a time to go back without knowing how it will compare to the first and the learning and exploration that came with it. More to be taken in but also familiarity begins to seep in through interactions and reinforceable moments. A facet of a student’s experience in school, but also the defining trait of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as it brings us back to Hogwarts with more stakes and a bit of horror as well.
Returning to Hogwarts for his second year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) receives a warning from a house-elf to not return because of the dangers awaiting the boy. Something he ignores until he sees a string of strange phenomena occurring threatening the lives of students as he continues to learn more about his connection to Lord Voldemort.
With Sorcerer’s Stone setting the foundation of Hogwarts, this feature sets out as the first one to build upon it and move this overall story into the darker elements involved. This means it finds itself in a particularly intriguing position within the entire film series. It carries remnants of the first feature with its childish look at this world, but also preparing for the truly dark moments set to take place later. Overall, it comes through as a successful mix of the two even if the film struggles with jampacking so much content to the point where it hits nearly 3 hours in its runtime. A challenge that comes with adapting any piece of literature but this feature also feels like another film setting the foundation in further enriching this world but it also provides plenty of thrills.
A new year brings more opportunities and the relationships that began in the first go-around get richer as a result. Harry’s relationship with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) gets more lovely and the one he was with Draco (Tom Felton) becomes even more antagonistic. Chamber of Secrets does well on the relationship aspect, as it remains integral to Harry Potter’s journey. The young man still barely knows anything about his past and what connects him with Voldemort, but how his journey relates to the other students becomes vital to the success of these films. Hermione certainly takes a bit of a step back in presence here as the film allows for more time between Ron and Harry and their particular friendship. It provides the perfect opportunity to speak on Rupert Grint’s charming performance as a young Ron. He just provides the most realistic look of anyone reacting to all of the madness occurring within this narrative. That scared look he gives when looking towards others where he can barely speak occurs on more than one occasion and it works to a delightful degree every single time. Ron establishes himself as one of the best characters of this film series here and it just continues to get better.
As with much of the other films, new characters get introduced and it typically comes in the form of other famous British actors joining the cast list to have some fun with these new roles in the wonderful Wizarding world. In this instance, we have the fraudulent but extremely charismatic Gilderoy Lockhart portrayed by the ever-dashing Kenneth Branagh. A man who does not hold fear in tooting his own horn and the way his performance adds a bit of comedy amidst a fairly dark film dealing with some scary moments serves as a necessary counterweight in moments. In addition, we also have Jason Isaacs portraying Draco’s father, who was simply born to play despicable villains and you can tell he takes great joy in it.
The horror elements in this feature stand out as one of its strong suits with moments that could genuinely frighten kids and really shows where the heart of this entire story lies. I mean, there are moments where messages written in blood on walls get displayed. Feels like quite the difference from the first film’s whimsy and a warm-hearted depiction of this school. A necessary turn and one that continues to raise the stakes for the eventual meeting between Harry and Voldemort. I mean, the entire obelisk scene alone provides plenty to fuel nightmares for young ones as you have this young boy taking on a large serpent. However, what it means on top of the reveals in this feature only continues to build up the intrigue of this ultimate villain.
With a deeper voice as Harry (and Daniel Radcliffe) goes through puberty, Chamber of Secrets serves as the appropriate turn for the series to get much more serious and dark with its material while also keeping the heartwarming feeling that made the first feature beloved. Yes, it runs for almost an absurd 3 hours, but this feature packs in so much information and manages to maintain good pacing and intrigue throughout that it surely does not feel like it. A testament to any successful film pushing that length. It’s funny watching this film again in English seeing as most of my life I’ve watched it with my mother in Spanish, which makes actually hearing these characters speak in their natural tongue a bit jarring in a funny way. Overall, a strong and spooky entry.