By the time "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", the second film in the "Harry Potter" series, arrived in theaters, I was all but sick of the Harry Potter franchise. After all, look what had been done to a few perfectly wonderful books: all of the magic had been wrung out of them by the first film, merchandising tie-ins and more than enough publicity. But thanks to a heightened sense of adventure (and possibly my much lowered expectations), Potter manages to share some fun this time around.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is having a miserable summer vacation (he's a unique kid in more ways than one). He is back staying with his relatives, the Dursleys, who are taking extra special measures to make sure he doesn't humiliate them with his newfound magical skill by not letting him see anyone outside of the house. Harry's got another thing coming for him, however, when a little House Elf named Dobby (Toby Jones) tells him that he is in great danger if he goes back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Of course, Harry does not comply, and a few weeks before school begins, he is whisked out of his room by his friend Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and his brothers (Oliver and James Phelps) in their magical flying car.
When the next school year begins, strange things start to happen around Hogwarts. People begin to be petrified (literally), and signs written in blood begin to appear all around the school with such cryptic messages such as "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir... beware!" Now friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) must figure out the mystery behind the Chamber of Secrets, and who the heir might possibly be, before it is too late.
The first "Harry Potter" film sucked all of the magic out of the series. It felt like a chore that needed to get itself done; the only thing it was concerned about was getting all the events from the book onscreen in the most timely fashion without worrying about the quality of the translation. It seems here that director Chris Columbus has relaxed a little, and finally allowed himself to have fun with this.
"Chamber of Secrets" is, on the one hand, a nice little Nancy-Drew-Meets-Hardy-Boys type story. It tickles us with small clues here and there, all the time building up to its fantastic climax. On the other, it is a pure adventure movie in the vein of something like the original "Star Wars", moving from set piece to set piece, delivering excellent action that trumps folly like the troll from last year's film, with special effects more developed and convincing as well.
One of the special effects is also one of the most likeable characters in the film: Dobby the House Elf. Just when "Chamber of Secrets" begins to lag, Dobby appears and kicks the whole thing back into shape again. This represents something else that "Chamber" has over its predecessor: more fun characters. We had only Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to smile at last year, and now, all of the characters have been given more pep, flavor, and depth, including some new ones such as Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh in a wonderfully amusing performance).
Apparently, Chris Columbus learns from his mistakes. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is a much more fully realized film than the first; and it injects a much needed sense of breathless adventure into a series that had been dying in this critic's heart. Now, as Columbus parts the franchise to spend more time with his family, I look forward to what director Alfonso Cuaron can bring to the series to really make it special. Just another two years...