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Muggle No More: ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’

Brandon has never read a single Harry Potter book or seen any of the films. Believe it. But what sort of pop culture fan would he be if he didn’t immerse himself in the films that so many love? Join him as he gets his owl, heads to Hogwarts and sees what all the fuss is about.

Previously: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Being a Harry Potter newbie, I was very excited for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I didn’t hate the first film, as you can read here, but I was left a little underwhelmed and longing for something with more weight and depth. “It gets better,” fans told me. “Just hold out and it’ll pick up.” So I was ready to be swept away.

To be fair, Chamber of Secrets is markedly better than Sorcerer’s Stone. It also has a lot of the same problems the first film did and still feels like a big, shaggy and almost-too-faithful adaptation of an epic book. It has its problems but shows so much promise for future installments. I’m starting to see why people love this franchise.

From the first scene, you can tell the budget for Chamber of Secrets was higher than Sorcerer’s Stone’s. It just feels richer and more vibrant. Even areas we’ve visited before, like Diagon Alley, spring to life more. It’s exciting to see the scope of the series expand. It really felt like we were moving now. With the first film concluded, we have the prologue out of the way and can get right into the meat of the story.

HP (2)

Well, kind of. The movie begins with story, feeling more like a continuation than a new movie. Promising start, right? Mostly. But then we meet Dobby and everything comes to a screeching halt. I saw his lumpy little CG face and immediately had flashbacks of Jar Jar. He’s not going to be in this long, right? I hoped. With his physical shtick, his annoying decisions and his grating voice (surprisingly provided by the fantastic Toby Jones), I was ready for Dobby to take off from moment one. He reminded me that the Harry Potter is still primarily for kids. Sometimes to a fault.

But Dobby doesn’t linger too long and before we know it, Harry is flying in Ron’s car and off to Hogwarts. Now the story is going to get chugging along at full speed like the Hogwarts Express, right? Right?! Not entirely. Like its predecessor, Chamber of Secrets tries so hard to jam in events from the book. That’s all well and good for fans of the series but for someone like me – someone who knows little to nothing about the books – it feels too full. Mandrakes, puking slugs, angry tress – it starts to feel like piling on. The movie is two hours and forty minutes, the longest HP movie, and it feels it. It’s a good forty minutes before the plot kicks in, which is a damn shame because it’s a fun plot.

Fun and kind of spooky. I love the direction the film takes, inserting disturbing undertones and a creeping sense of dread. This was the Harry Potter people promised me, made for kids but also haunting and steeped in darkness. The flashback with Tom Riddle is particularly great, building mythology and laying the ground work for a big reveal that legitimately surprised me. I didn’t see it coming but Tom Riddle (spoiler alert, duh) is Voldemort, the evil sorcerer who – I’m assuming – will eventually actually show up in these movies. It’s a great twist and for once I’m happy I didn’t read the book because it truly caught me off guard. Well played, Chamber of Secrets. Well played. Although, I’m still curious how Voldemort loses that nose.

HP (3)

The plot regarding the titular secretive chamber contains a mystery that’s easy to follow and also gives you a good history of Hogwarts and – finally – a bit of backstory for Voldemort. All the while, it shows the determination and heroics of Harry, who is becoming quite the champion. Seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione sneak through the hall of the school and uncover secret after secret is exciting. That’s due in part to J.K. Rowling’s writing and also to Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson’s growing talent. They are much better actors in this second film.

This is a fun movie, if not too long. There are a few missteps that discourage a new fan like me (Dobby, it’s mostly Dobby I’m talking about) but for every false start and unnecessarily adapted scene, there are moments where you feel the story being built. I can start to see where things are going and I sense the danger of Voldemort’s return. He’s getting here, slowly (maybe too slowly) but surely. I know it won’t be good for Harry and his crew, but I’m curious to see what happens when the Sorcerer Formerly Known as Tom Riddle finally regains his physical being. It’ll get messy, it’s get violent, it’ll get dark. And it’ll bring ample drama and action.

As for Harry, Ron and Hermione, maybe they should get more than accolades and an award for saving the school and all of wizardkind. Come on Dumbledore, these kids saved your behind again!

MVP of the film

HP (4)

Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (played by Kenneth Branagh) is a splash of fun in an increasingly dark world. I’m sure the character was a blast in the book but it actually a bit unnecessary in the film. Don’t get me wrong, it’s joyful to see him bound into every scene with his chest puffed up and his hair perfectly combed but he doesn’t really do too much, aside from deliver a few funny moments. But hats off to Branagh who really brings it and had me chuckling every time he’s on screen. I also find it endlessly amusing that the young students are attracted to Branagh. Not that he’s bad looking but he’s not the prime example of a Teen Beat hunk.

Random questions/comments about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Jason Isaacs’s wig game is on point. It was a brave move for the actor to recommend the long blond wig for his character and it certainly a decision that won’t soon be forgotten. Good choice? Bad choice? It’s certainly one hell of a choice.
  • The film opens on Harry Potter’s birthday, July 31. Fun fact: that’s my birthday too (and J.K. Rowling’s as well). One of the reasons I never read the books or saw the films was because so many people would constantly remind me I shared a birthday with Harry and it really got on my nerves after awhile. I’m older now, wiser too. It doesn’t bother me. As much.
  • I love seeing the personalities of each character forming more and more. Harry is the hero, of course. Ron is the nervous but insanely loyal best friend and Hermione is the headstrong, book smart brains. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson understand this and play their parts superbly.
  • Harry tells Riddle that Dumbledore it the greatest wizard alive. I really hope we get to see him using his celebrated talents soon. I want to see Dumbledore’s magic!
  • How weird was it for Ginny to wake up to the sight of Harry Potter, in front of a giant dead snake, being cried on by a phoenix. I guess that’s what you expect when you go to Hogwarts.

 


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