As Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets begins, life has slightly improved for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) at the Dursley residence. He’s moved from the cupboard under the stairs into a room, but his Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), who are raising the boy because his parents are deceased, are still very rude towards him.
Dobby the house elf (voiced by Toby Jones) has come to warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts, but when Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and his brothers Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) show up one night in a flying car, Harry can’t resist leaving with them. At the Weasley home, Harry meets Ron’s parents (Alex Crockford and Julie Walters) and his sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright). Over the course of the series, the Weasleys will treat Harry as one of their own, and he and Ginny will grow closer as well.
In what is soon to become a Hogwarts tradition, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor joins the staff for the school year. Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), a famous wizard and author, is his own greatest fan, yet when given the opportunity, he is unable to demonstrate how he performed the great feats that he writes about. He makes for a poor teacher as well.
Shortly after the term begins, Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) discover a message written in blood that states the Chamber of Secrets as has been opened. This worries the staff and frightens the students. During a class, Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) explains that Salazar Slytherin built the Chamber and only an heir of his can open it and control the monster within.
Harry finds the diary of Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson), a former student from years ago, and discovers the Chamber was opened before and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) was blamed for the death of a student. As students start turning up petrified, including Hermione, Headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris) is suspended and Hagrid is taken into custody. Harry and Ron learn from Hagrid’s pet spider Aragog that Hagrid was innocent and they almost lose their lives in the process during an extremely creepy and intense action sequence in the Forbidden Forest.
Back at the school, the boys discover what the monster is, and after hearing Ginny has been taken into the Chamber, they go to rescue her. Harry gets isolated (naturally) and has to rescue Ginny from the monster by himself. He also learns the secret of Tom Riddle.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is frequently derided as the least favorite film in the franchise. It’s too bad, but that designation has to fall on one of the titles, and there are certainly some issues with the film that make it understandable. Dobby is rather annoying as he punishes himself when he perceives he’s done something wrong. All too often, Harry and the others are rescued or assisted with just what they needed. While it is a magical world, these occurrences weren’t believable and felt forced. The film also feels a little too familiar to the first film “Sorcerer’s Stone” so it suffers for that.
Still, I enjoyed revisiting the Harry Potter world. The series tells one massive story as opposed to a collection of different adventures like those of James Bond, so no part should be skipped. The character base expands with the Weasley family; Draco’s villainous father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs); and Moaning Myrtle. There are more magic items as well with Floo powder and Polyjuice potion make their first appearances. Sadly, it is the last time we see Richard Harris as Dumbledore because he died before reprising the role and the character of Headless Harry (John Cleese) doesn’t return to the movies.
The film has some good laughs and action. The boys dodging the Hogwarts Express in a flying car and avoiding monsters in the Forbidden Forest were very good set pieces. Most importantly, the cast does a great job bringing J.K. Rowling’s characters to life.