Plot: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is due to return to Hogwart’s for his second year of magic school, but a surprise visit from an odd elf named Doby almost derails him from his lessons. Doby is insistent that someone wants Harry dead and that if he goes back to the school, he will be in imminent danger. This visit leads to Harry being locked in his room by his muggle caretakers, but Ron (Rupert Grint) soon arrives in a flying car to whisk the young wizard to Hogwart’s. While Harry dismissed Doby’s claims of danger, he soon discovers the elf was telling the truth and there is a dark presence at the school that is tied to him somehow. But can Harry and his friends uncover the full truth and protect themselves from whatever threats lurk in the shadows, or will this prove to be Harry’s final year at Hogwart’s?

Entertainment Value: Sorcerer’s Stone was a fun start to the Harry Potter franchise, but weighed down by a lot of exposition and in this first sequel, that exposition begins to pay off and we’re given a more kinetic picture as a result. The movie opens with a new character introduced, a bizarre elf named Doby, who looks like a melted ET prop mixed with Gollum. This series has a lot of colorful, odd creatures and what not, but Doby is a highlight to this point, a truly strange fellow who has an interesting arc and very odd visual presence. The movie still feels kind of light and upbeat, but the shadows start to creep in and Chamber of Secrets serves as the transition from brisk exposition to more sinister narrative developments. The lessened exposition allows for a brisker pace, but the movie also runs over 160 minutes and ranks as the longest in the series, so it is a little drawn out in places. At the same time, the more progressive narrative and the presence of several interesting, larger scale set pieces ensures Chamber of Secrets never loses your attention. The visual effects look solid for the most part, save some weak CGI, but that is to be expected from big studio productions and the effects here are better than most from this period. In the end, this is a fun, solid transition film that readies us for a trip into the darker stories of the Harry Potter world.

The real star of Chamber of Secrets has to be Doby, the creepy elf who looks like a relative of Meathead from Meatballs II. He has a minor, but recurring role in the movie and such a weird looking design, combined with a ridiculous personality that I couldn’t help but love the little guy. I wish he had a larger role of course, but it was nice that his arc here hinges on a sock. The adults continue to offer the best performances, but given the pedigree and depth of talent involved, that is no surprise. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Toby Jones, Jason Isaacs, John Cleese, and more are all on deck and in fine form. But Alan Rickman once again shines as Snape, a role that fits him like a glove. Kenneth Branagh joins the cast as the over the top Lockhart, in a fun role that lets him wear silly outfits and camp up his performance. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have settled into their roles more by this sequel and provide much improved efforts, though Rupert Grint struggles, even though he is more or less just around for comic relief. This sequel builds on the exposition framework established in the original film and by turn, offers a more kinetic and forward moving narrative. In other words, this is a rock solid movie.

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