Thursday, February 6, 2014

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Movie Review)

     If you read my last review of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, then you know how much I praised that movie up and down, how I called it a timeless classic and how I’ve only grown to love it more and more as I’ve grown up. Now it’s time to review the 2002 sequel titled “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, how does this one do in comparison to the first movie, honestly, I think it’s even better than its predecessor. In fact, of all eight installments in the “Harry Potter” series, this one is personally my absolute favorite. Oh, there will be other excellent films in the series after this, but I’ll always look at “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” with the most fondness. This is the film that really made me a devoted fan of the series, this is the one I’ve watched the most and it sits quiet comfortably amongst some of my own personal favorite movies. 

      The plot goes like this, Harry Potters second year at Hogwarts school is about to begin and Harry is excited to go back to the place he considers home. However, an ominous warning from a house elf named Dobby, gives our young hero the distinct impression that things are going to get really bad at school this year. It turns out that an ancient evil dating back to over a thousand years ago, back to when the school was first built, has now come back to haunt them. As students are slowly being attacked by a mysterious monster, the burden falls upon Harry Potter and his friends to slay this best, protect the school, and embark on one wild adventure after the next to solve the mystery of the hidden chamber of secrets. This is the kind of premise that thrills me because the danger is much closer to home, the castle that’s supposed to be our safe haven is now defenseless, concepts and events from the past effect the present and everything ties together so nicely in the end.

       Our trio of hero’s are back but this time it’s more like a buddy adventure for Harry and Ron, because Hermione doesn’t get to spend as much time with them. However the next film will make up for that, she still contributes to the team and it’s actually kind of cool to see the two best friends get their own adventure. It’s hard to explain why, but the characters all feel more human in this film. I like their conversations, I like their bonding moments and I love how involved everyone gets.

     It’s really cool to learn the genesis of Hogwarts School and the legend of the four founding wizards. It’s revealed that Harry Potter is the descendent of one of the four founders, a wizard by the name of Godric Gryffindor who was one of greatest hero’s of the age. On the opposite side of that coin, we also learn that Harries greatest enemy Voldemort is also a descendent from one of the big four, a wizard named Salazar Slytherin, who was the most sinister villain of the time. So now it’s like a battle of the generations, the decedents of titans have come back to clash and it makes this conflict between Harry Potter and Voldemort so much more interesting. Harry also confronts a younger version of Voldemort by the name of Tom Riddle. This was an interesting twist and it helps keep things feeling fresh. Most of the Harry Potter movies feature Voldemort as a decayed, snake like monster. Yet, for some reason, he feels more intimidating and even a little scarier as this generic, everyday teenager because you just wouldn’t expect him to be the epitome of evil.

       All the other classic characters from the first film are back and better than ever. This is the last film to feature the late great sir Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore, before his unfortunate passing. Thankfully, he has a lot of scenes, and you just want to saver every moment with him in the role because he was just so warm and humble in the part. John Cleese also makes one last appearance as the ghost named Nearly Headless Nick and Alan Rickman dose his usual good job in the role of professor Snape. The half giant Hagrid gets a lot of involvement in this story which is great, unfortunately that will never happen again. While the character will be seen in all the following movies, he’ll never be as involved as he was in these first two movies. The bully, Draco Malfoy also gets a much bigger part in this film and has some exciting clashes with Harry Potter throughout the movie, including a wizard duel, which is the first official wand battle in the series.

      We also get a fun cast of new characters and creatures to join the adventure. Ron’s little sister Ginny makes her mark on the series and will become Harry Potters girl friend in the later installments. While she doesn’t get a lot of screen time, she at least plays a part in the story, and her introduction scene is hands down one of the cutest stand out moments for me in the whole series. One of the funniest characters is a young boy named Colin, who’s always insistent on taking a picture with his camera. Some of the new creatures include a giant spider named Aragog and a phoenix named Fox. There’s a new ghost character named Moaning myrtle, who’s a lot of fun to watch. Then there’s the house elf named Dobby, who’s taken it upon himself to be Harry Potters guardian angel, weather Harry wants his help or not. This could have easily been a really annoying character, but the righters handle him very well. He never goes to over the top or annoying and has just enough charisma and charm to balance everything out.

       My favorite character by far is the new defense against the dark arts teacher, a celebrity author by the name of Gilderoy Lockhart. This guy’s one of those celebrity’s who loves to show off, loves the attention, yet in reality he’s a complete looser. He’s played by Kenneth Branagh and he’s hamming this performance up with pure charm and enjoyment. No one else could have pulled this character off as well as him. There’s also a new villain thrown in the mix named Lucius Malfoy played by Jason Isaacs. He’s the evil master mind in this film, father of Harries rival Draco and he steals the show with every scene he’s in. Jason Isaacs is such an awesome villain actor and he infuses this character with menace, class and a commanding screen presence. Even though Voldemort is the primary antagonist of the series and one of Hollywood’s most classic villains, I still prefer Lucius Malfoy. He’s just a really cool villain, with a devious voice, a threatening look, even a cane with a snake head at the end. This is another character that will be featured in other Harry Potter movies, but he’ll never be quiet as awesome as displayed in this film.

       You may recall how I described the first movie as more of an experience then a story, it was all about being submersed in a magical world and going from one magical encounter to the next. In many respects this film has that same feel, but it’s not as much of a simplistic experience, instead it’s far more of a fast passed adventure film, and that’s how I like it best. Right from the start we get an exciting scene where Harry’s dead beat relatives, the Dursleys, are holding him prisoner at their house and it’s up to his best friend Ron to rescue him. After that, all kinds of exciting adventure sequences take place. There’s an unbelievably fun scene where Harry and Ron miss the train to go to Hogwarts, which results in them stealing a flying car, and what follows is one of the wildest rides I’ve ever seen. We have another exciting Quitich match, except this time Harry is facing off against his rival Draco Malfoy, all while contending with a rouge wreaking ball that’s chasing him. One of my favorite scenes involves our hero’s venturing into a dark forest where their attacked by an army of giant spiders. This leads into one of the best action scenes in the series.

      Finally, the film builds to a thrilling climax involving a monstrous serpent called the Basilisk. We get sword fighting, running around through an underground maze and this giant monster just thrills me every time it’s on screen. When it comes to creatures of folklore and mythology, the Basilisk has always been one of my favorites, and don’t think this creature has ever been more awesome then the one featured in this film. The ending is perhaps the best feel good moment of the entire series, and while it’s a little corny to see all the characters give a sudden round of applause, it’s still very satisfying and it just warms me up inside every time. That final shot is also a perfect way to close out the film, with the camera backing out a window, giving us an awesome shot of the castle, all mated to triumphant music and then fade to black, it gives me chills every time.

      Personally, I think this film gets the tone just right, capturing that same magical charm of the first movie and combining it with the darker storytelling of the later day films. Many Harry Potter movies to come will just get darker and darker, which is fine, I like dark storytelling, but all the joyful tones that made these early films so captivating will be completely diminished, and I just prefer how these two tones balance each other out in this film. The passing is especially good, I mean this movie has a long run time of 161 minutes but it goes by so quickly and never once comes off as boring or tiered. There’s even a fairly decent message regarding the choices we make and how they define us as individuals. Thankfully, these Harry Potter movies know how to deliver a moral without preaching it in the face of the audience. On a side note, this is the only entry in the series to feature a post credit scene, showing what happened to our favorite lowlife celebrity Gilderoy Lockhart. It’s not that long but I suppose it’s worth mentioning. 


     To sum things up, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is a magical adventure that expands on the mystical universe of the series and even improves on it. Everything just feels livelier, and while it may be more appealing for younger views, I still can’t help enjoying this one the most. I don’t think any series should have a definitive best entry because it’s all open for debate and it’s up to personal opinion. Well, like I said, it’s been almost eight years sense this movie first premiered and it’s still my favorite of the Harry Potter movies. The tone is perfect, the story is engaging, the characters are wonderful, the adventure elements are thrilling, the creatures are awesome, the message is great, I’ve seen this a million times before and I’m sure I’ll see it a million times more.

                       I give “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” a solid 5 stars out of 5.         


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