Harry Potter has a guaranteed audience in its legions of
young fans, and their unfortunate parents who will have to
sit through the movie also. Harry Potter And The Chamber
Of Secrets suffers from all the flaws of its predecessor.
It is too long, unfocused, and the end is excessively cheeseball
even for a children’s film.
It all begins innocently enough with Harry living with his
muggle parents during the school break when suddenly a CGI
elf appears and warns Harry that a return to Hogwarts could
be very hazardous to his health. Living with his muggle parents
is agony so Harry returns for another year of adventure with
the old gang of Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid. He also meets the
sinister Lucius Malfoy, father to his blonde schoolyard rival,
and Gilderoy Lockhart, (Branagh) the new defense against
the dark arts teacher. The usual spell-crafting classes and
quidditch matches round out the curriculum for his sophomore
year. As much as can be understood is that the evil lord Voldemort
is still trying to return from the grave and this time he
plans to open the aforementioned chamber of secrets and release
a deadly monster upon the school. Of course it is up to Harry
Potter to save the day.
The movie would have done well to follow this simple story,
but it takes far too long to get there. The film is weighted
down by so many unnecessary scenes and characters that by
the time it’s over one can easily think of 30 minutes that
could have been left on the editing table without any loss
to the film’s integrity. On the other hand Malfoy and Voldemort
could have used more screen time. How are they connected?
What’s their agenda? Why is it so important that they be stopped?
The movie offers only vague answers. They are connected by
evil, for the cause of doing evil, and they must be stopped
because they are evil. This paints a blurry picture that could
have used more development, because after all a hero is only
as strong as his antagonist.
Most of the attempts to create suspense during the action
sequences fail with the exception of any scene involving flying
brooms or cars. Harry’s showdowns with various monsters or
schoolyard foes simply fail to command interest. The monsters
look fake for a movie with such a large budget and the motivations
for the conflict aren’t well enough explained for anyone to
care about the resolution. In this situation a sufficiently
charismatic lead actor would have been able to engage the
audience, but young Mr. Radcliffe was chosen more for
his mere physical resemblance to Harry Potter than for any
acting talent. The presences of Richard Harris, Maggie
Smith, and Alan Rickman add a touch of maturity
to this juvenile affair. Kenneth Branagh adds a few chuckles
as he mugs for the camera, but he is a total throwaway character.
The brains of the operation, Hermione, suffers a minor tragedy,
leaving Harry and Ron to continue the fight. Without her these
two jokers can’t seem to find their wands with both hands,
leaving the fate of the school very much in doubt. The final
error is the overly-drawn-out, super-happy ending. While the
music gets happier and happier, the audience gets more and
more fed up with this movie’s stubborn refusal to end. After
the climactic fight there’s another 15 minutes of pure sugary
happiness to go, ending the movie on a sour note.