Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – Review

Enemies of the Heir, beware!

In a nutshell: Preparing for his second year at Hogwarts Harry is confronted with House Elf Dobby who is intent that he should not return to Hogwarts. A flying car journey and a broken arm later and Harry is confronted with the opening of the Chamber of Secrets. Taking it upon themselves to unearth the mysteries behind the Chamber before a student dies Ron and Harry (robbed of Hermione) discover the Chamber. Harry is yet again confronted with Lord Voldemort but this time he must also contend with a giant basilisk and the task of saving Ron’s 11 year-old sister.

Harry, back with his aunt and uncle on Privet Drive, eagerly awaits his second year at Hogwarts but, after the house elf Dobby appears, his school career is soon jeopardised. After some Weasley intervention he finds himself freed and flying to school in a Ford Anglia with best friend Ron.

Although perhaps the worst of the Potter adaptations, Chamber of Secrets manages to retain much of the charm that the first instalment promised. Nothing is necessarily bad with Columbus’s second stint in the Potter director’s seat, but nothing particularly amazes either. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe)’s over-pronunciation, though somewhat quelled in the later films, grates a little whilst the film’s overall style feels a little dated thanks to the final parts of the series.

Thankfully the Chamber of Secret’s charm is still enough to save it even if Dobby threatens to curtail the enjoyment. Kenneth Brannagh, currently wowing audiences with Thor, stars as the much-loved foppish Gilderoy Lockhart and causes many a heart to flutter on screen. His published successes are soon queried leaving Harry and co. to pick up the pieces of his ineptitude whilst his colleagues continued jibes seem to jar with the serious dangers the school experiences.

Of course that’s not the only spot of bother the lead trio find themselves in and, after the eponymous Chamber of Secrets is opened, Harry is estranged from his school friends after the discovery that he, like Lord Voldemort, is a parselmouth. Uh oh. Cue dagger eyes and worried whispers that are only made worse by his continued ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

With the teachers visibly concerned with the events that have taken hold of the supposedly impenetrable fortress that is Hogwarts, the school is threatened with closure. Hagrid is awarded a stint in wizard jail Azkaban and Dumbledore is stripped of his power leaving the school more vulnerable than ever. Although the Chamber has never been located, Harry, Ron and Hermione set their sights on discovering its secrets, seeing them fumble with Polyjuice potion. The effects are enjoyable but are somewhat unrewarding.

The dangers posed in Chamber of Secrets are noticeably more challenging than a rogue turbaned teacher (yes we realise he had Voldemort lurking under there, but it’s not quite Voldemort and a giant snake, is it?), with Harry coming face to face with creepy Knockturn Alley, giant spiders, a rather youthful Voldemort as well as the Whomping Willow.

Rupert Grint’s comedic facial expressions, now a staple of the Potter franchise, offer light relief to the film’s impending doom whilst the woes he experiences with his mutilated wand provide humorous results (that’s humorous for us, we ourselves wouldn’t want to cough up slugs). Whilst we’ve all experienced the power of a mother’s wrath, Ron’s humiliation is tenfold thanks to the howler he is sent. Receiving a thundering scolding in front of the entire school, he has to skulk his way through breakfast, poor chap.

Chamber of Secrets borrows many of the formulas used in Philosopher’s Stone (Neville’s continued troubles with staying grounded, Harry’s broken glasses as well as Hagrid’s loose lips) and, although thematically important for the series, it suffers from a rather cheesetastic finale.

Best magic: Oblivate!
Best character: Ron for his very real dislike for spiders.
Best newcomer: Gilderoy for being an utterly hopeless teacher.
Best baddie: Tom Riddle.
Best creature: Fawkes.
Best Harry moment: Beating the basilisk to save Ginny.
How did it rate to the book?: The film unfortunately lacked the great Headless Hunt party but made up for it in perfectly adapting the car scenes.

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