RETRO REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Theatrical Release Poster - Warner Bros.
Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros.

The following is a spoiler-filled retro review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones) – a house elf – is trying to stop Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe) from reaching Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, a message has been written in blood: “Chamber of Secrets has been opened, Enemies of the Heir beware.”

Chris Columbus deserves a lot of credit for what he did with the franchise. He may not have directed the most popular films in the franchise, but he gave us two very solid Harry Potter films to kickstart the universe, and the second of his Harry Potter films (Chamber of Secrets) was the first film to make it more than just a kids film franchise.

I really love a lot in this film, but I don’t love it as much as I did when I was younger. It used to be one of my favorite Harry Potter films. Today, I can notice some pretty strong issues that I have with the film, but before focusing on that, let’s talk about what really works.

I think Radcliffe gave a better performance in Chamber of Secrets than he did in Philosopher’s Stone. I think Gilderoy Lockhart is one of the best supporting characters in the Harry Potter franchise, and Kenneth Branagh was just delightful in that role.

Sure, Dobby is annoying at first, but by the end of the film he wins you over and really works by standing up to his former master. I also still really love Hagrid in this film. Similarly, I think the sequence at the Weasley home was just wonderful, and I did enjoy most of the scenes with the flying car.

I really dislike, though, that Alan Rickman didn’t get much to do here. His most prominent scene in the film is his very brief duel with Lockhart. Rickman is too good for that little work. And, well, let’s just get to my main problem with the film.

Chamber of Secrets is way too long. It’s just too much. 161 minutes long. There’s so much to cut out of this film. So many things you could’ve tweaked or edited out to make the plot more digestible, as it were. It takes the film thirty minutes before the school year starts.

It takes almost 90 minutes before Harry Potter finds Tom Riddle’s diary. 100 minutes, or so, before Harry and Ron follow the spiders, and two whole hours before we find the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. That is just too much. As much as I love this universe, I have to say that.

Chamber of Secrets is often said to be the first dark Harry Potter film. The first Harry Potter film to appeal to adults somewhat. But while I do think it is a darker film – and a very good darker Harry Potter film – it is a surprisingly sweet ending.

Sure, this film gave us the first hint that Lucius Malfoy maybe was a Death Eater (or at least, a Voldemort-sympathizer at this early stage), but at the end of this film, what really changes? I’m not a fan of how sweet the ending is. All exams are canceled, everyone’s back to normal. People are cheering on Hagrid as he returns, and only Malfoy is irked by it.

I like Chamber of Secrets better than Philosopher’s Stone, but it’s also very different. Chamber of Secrets is a monster movie that touched on racism and slavery. Nevertheless, it has a very happy ending. But the chapters in a hero’s journey aren’t all sweet as sugar. That’s what everyone was about to learn from the post-Columbus Harry Potter films.

7.9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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