In commemoration of the upcoming sequel, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018), I’m going to review the rest of the Harry Potter series:
- THE SORCERER’S STONE (2001)
- THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)
- THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005)
- THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007)
- THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009)
- THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 (2010)
- THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (2011)
- FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016)
First disclaimer: Before anyone freaks out, yes, I’ve seen all of the films before. When I was a kid. I haven’t revisited most of these films since they were released in theaters. I’m just taking a trip down memory lane and seeing how they hold up compared to when I first saw them and getting my opinions out there. Second disclaimer: No, I’ve not read the books. Okay, I’ve read the first three. I do not remember them. I am not planning to read these books, so please don’t freak out with sentences like, “Well, it’s better explained in the book!” I do not care. This is purely my opinions regarding the films.
Returning alumni: Daniel Radcliffe (SWISS ARMY MAN , VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN , and the upcoming PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE ), Rupert Grint (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Emma Watson (THE CIRCLE , and the upcoming LITTLE WOMEN ), Richard Harris (THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO  and GLADIATOR ), Alan Rickman (EYE IN THE SKY , LOVE ACTUALLY , and DIE HARD ).
Franchise newcomers: Jason Isaacs (LONDON FIELDS , CURE FOR WELLNESS , INFILTRATOR , and upcoming films LOOK AWAY  and HOTEL MUMBAI ), Toby Jones (CHRISTOPHER ROBIN , ATOMIC BLONDE , MORGAN , Captain America THE FIRST AVENGER  and WINTER SOLDIER , and the upcoming THE LAST THING HE WANTED ), Kenneth Branagh (ORIENT EXPRESS , and upcoming films ALL IS TRUE  and DEATH ON THE NILE ), Mark Williams (EARLY MAN , STARDUST , and the upcoming HEIDI: QUEEN OF THE MOUNTAIN ), and Christian Coulson (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of).
Director: Chris Columbus (PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF  and HOME ALONE )
Writer: Steve Kloves (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN )
Composer: John Williams (THE POST , STAR WARS: LAST JEDI , BFG , Indiana Jones RAIDERS , TEMPLE , CRUSADE , and CRYSTAL SKULL , JURASSIC PARK  and THE LOST WORLD , CLOSE ENCOUNTERS , and upcoming films STAR WARS EPISODE IX  and Indiana Jones 5 )
Cinematographer: Roger Pratt (TROY  and 102 DALMATIANS )
Editor: Peter Honess (THE GOLDEN COMPASS  and HIGHLANDER )
This is my honest opinion of: HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is eager to go back to Hogwarts and away from the Dursleys, despite not hearing from his friends all summer. But Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones), an enslaved house elf, has visited him at the Dursleys to warn him of a danger that threatens his life, but can’t actually say, and is also responsible for stealing all of the letters that best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have written him over the summer. Despite framing Harry for humiliating his uncle and ruining a business deal, Harry’s best friend Ron Weasley, along with his twin brothers, rescue him and take him back to their place and eventually to Hogwarts. However, it seems that there is a danger lurking in Hogwarts when Harry starts hearing a threatening voice in walls of the school and a string of students and creatures are being petrified. The school suspects that Harry is responsible and that he might be the supposed “heir of Slytherin,” who seems to be foretold to return with the intent of killing Muggle-born students.
Mmph… okay, this doesn’t hold up that well either, but it has more going for it than SORCERER’S STONE.
Let’s start easy. Returning problems include the Dursleys. I do not understand why Harry was allowed to come back to stay with them after the last time they were seen, which is their summer home door getting smashed in and Dudley (Harry Melling) getting a pig’s tail. In fact, it almost looks like he got rewarded by being gifted Dudley’s second room. What was wrong with the cupboard? Putting bars on his windows, fighting to keep him away from Hogwarts instead of kicking him out for ruining his business deal, I just don’t get it. Also, half the problems in this story are because the kids are taking matters into their own hands instead of trying to talk to the teachers. Hell, I’m pretty sure the teachers didn’t even question Potter for things. Once again, the adults are portrayed as idiots or incompetent. Rogue bludger anyone? Why did Hermione have to blow it up as opposed to a teacher?
But let’s go for the new problems. Dobby is annoying as @#$%. I’m saying it, and I’m not taking it back, Dobby is the Jar Jar Binks of the Wizarding World. You know what? I’ll even go further. Get your torches and pitchforks ready, fanboys and girls, because I’m about “to go there.” Dobby is WORSE than Jar Jar. Yeah, I said it! Who wants some!? But in all seriousness, he truly is. Jar Jar may have had a more grating voice (though not by much), and Dobby is voiced by the usually-amazing Toby Jones, but that’s all that can be said about him. What is his function in the story? It’s supposed to be the character that warns Harry about a danger that threatens the Boy Who Lived. However, what does Dobby actually tell Harry? Nothing! Not one single bloody thing! It’s all way too vague and cryptic! I think even as a kid, this bothered the crap out of me. All Dobby does is tell him not to go back to school or he’ll do more douche bag things, stealing Harry’s letters. Yet FOR SOME REASON, Dobby refuses to actually say what the threat is. Without context, Harry has no reason to listen, which he naturally doesn’t, so why should the audience care about what Dobby has to say? And why was Dobby so afraid to tell Harry? What was binding him into secrecy? <<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ Did he somehow know that Lucius (Jason Isaacs) was going to plant Voldemort’s school book in Ginny Weasley’s (Bonnie Wright) cauldron to wreck havoc on Hogwarts? First off, how did he even get that much intel? Do the Malfoys just talk about their schemes in the open? Even if that were the case, what does Dobby care about Harry? He just has that strong sense of justice, and right and wrong? That certainly can’t be the case because then he would have simply told Harry the situation. He was afraid of being punished or worse by the Malfoys? Something’s telling me that would have been his fate anyway if they knew he was talking to Harry at all. How the hell did he even get away with being away from the Malfoys on multiple occasions anyway? Don’t tell me it’s because it’s at night time for each of his visits to Harry and they could have been asleep while the elf is gone because then it still would have been an easy cover to tell Harry the dangers that threaten him. Dobby is neither within ear shot of a Malfoy, nor is he in a position really care about that sliding scale of punishment should the Malfoys ever find out what Dobby did, so he’s stupid. And how does his freedom count? The rule is, he can only be freed if his master presents him with an article of clothing. But he wasn’t. He was presented with a book that had an article of clothing in it. It wasn’t a conscious presentation, so why does Lucius take that with his thumb up his butt? I can’t imagine how many times a Malfoy simply threw dirty underwear on a house elf demanding them to be washed, so how would that not have counted? ] <<<END SPOILERS>>> And seriously, how is Dobby not a supporting villain in this movie? He cursed a bludger and has the audacity to say that he wasn’t trying to kill Harry. Um, no, you dumb as hell, elf. If a bludger is strong enough to break Harry’s arm bone, which was protected by an arm-guard, then it’s strong enough to break his UNPROTECTED spine and or skull! No, that bludger was going to kill Harry, were it not for the quick actions of Hermione. Seriously, give Jar Jar some credit, he at least leads Queen Amidala to the Gungans to ask for support their battle against Nute Gunray and his droid army, which is ultimately a successful campaign… of sorts. Yeah, it’s contrived and laced with a ton of not-funny humor, but it’s at least A FORM of a contribution to the story. The same cannot be said about Dobby and should have been written out of the movie altogether, no matter how beloved he is from the books.
Thanks to that scene in the bookstore, now the mythology of the Wizarding World is thrown into a maelstrom of confusion. We know that the only reason why the Dursleys know about magic is because Petunia’s sister Lily, Harry’s mother, was a witch and Petunia wasn’t. She likely told Vernon and that was why they knew about everything. While it would likely be a stretch to believe that they were the only ones in the entire world aware of magic, we’re shown that Hermione is a Muggle-born and her parents are perfectly aware of magic. So how has the Wizarding World remained a secret for so long? Why was it such it such a huge point of panic for Snape (Alan Rickman) when he showed the boys that seven Muggles saw the enchanted car? I feel like this universe doesn’t make sense.
As funny as Ron can sometimes be in this movie, he is so damned stupid. His wand is broken, and not only does he keep it, he keeps trying to use it. Fine, the first time a spell of his backfires could have been a fluke, but over and over again with an obvious pattern? Now he’s just not even trying to use that brain thing of his. <<<END SPOILERS>>> [ For that matter, why does Lockhart try to use it in the Chamber after he fake faints? Snape told him TO HIS FACE during the dueling scene that Ron’s wand was not fit for dueling purposes. I would chock this up to Lockhart being stupid, but… no, he’s not. He’s made an entire career of taking credit for other wizards’ accomplishments and wiping away their memories so they don’t rat him out. He’s crafty, sneaky, smarmy, characteristics of a person who is smart. Even if you REALLY wanted me to believe that he’s dumb, he has a “fight or flight” sense that’s off the charts. No one like that would dare risk using a memory charm with a broken wand that backfires, no matter what kind of corner he’s put in. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Even the direction isn’t that great this go-round. One scene that really stands out for me is Harry’s interaction with the Sorting Hat in Dumbledore’s office. Harry goes right up to it, almost with no provocation and asks if the Hat put him in the right house. Honestly, the moment he went up to the hat looked more like he was simply looking at it, not about to start up a conversation. But fine, moving on. When he asks the Hat his question, and the Hat says that he stands by his original statement that Harry would have been great in Slytherin, Harry simply says, “You’re wrong,” in a really matter-of-factly way. Like, why bother asking it a question if you were only looking for an answer that you wanted to hear rather than the truth? Dumb…
What’s with Aragog (voiced by Julian Glover)? Like, what was the long-term plan for eating Harry and Ron? Hagrid prescribed to the boys to follow the spiders, which would take them to Aragog. So if they never returned, Hagrid would eventually figure out that Aragog is responsible. Was that eight-legged freak not counting on there being consequences? This feels like a huge oversight. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ For that matter, how did Hagrid know that Harry and Ron needed to talk to Aragog at all? Did Hagrid know that the monster in the Chamber was the Basilisk? I guess that could make sense, but why didn’t he ever mention that to anyone? Like… anyone? Surly the big man would have mentioned that and it’d have been written down somewhere during his expulsion from school. Honestly, it would have made more sense if Tom Riddle hijacked Hagrid’s mind in the same way he did Ginny’s and made Hagrid open the Chamber. That would later explain why he knew to tell Harry and Ron to follow the spiders. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
If these fireplaces can teleport, why bother with trains and boats to get to places? <<<SPOILERS>>> [ By the way, was Dobby responsible for the enchanted car going haywire? This is never really explained. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>> Why is there a Whomping Willow on school grounds? That thing is beyond dangerous. What possible purpose does it serve? Why is replanting mandrakes important? It’s not, but it’s a heavy-handed way of showing that a cure for petrification exist. What was the point of Lockhart’s cornish pixie lesson? Do pixies somehow count in the category of “dark arts” and need defending against? Why does Filch (David Bradley) jump the gun so quickly to accuse Harry of harming Mrs. Noris? He even says to Dumbledore, “You’ve seen what he wrote on the wall!” Dude, he wasn’t even there to see who wrote on the wall! How is he so certain that Harry did it?! Both times, no less! What is the point of turning animals into water goblets? This entire class is just an excuse to talk about the Chamber of Secrets, so why not just have this conversation in McGonagall’s office, or whatever? So in the Wizarding World, they can regrow bones overnight, and even fix corrective eyewear, but somehow can’t fix Harry’s poor eyesight altogether? Something feels wrong about that. Why didn’t Harry and Ron wait for the Weasley parents to return from Platform 9 3/4? Like, just a few minutes? I mean, they just took that car without a moment’s hesitation, even after Harry suggested it. Ron is stupid. As we learn later on, Mrs. Weasley was more furious about the car being stolen, rather than acknowledging that the Platform’s barrier was closed off. Why doesn’t Harry tell Dumbledore about the voice he’s hearing? He even admits that he doesn’t believe that Harry is responsible for the petrifications, so why is telling Dumbledore about the voice a big no-no?
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ Here’s a big ole question for everyone. When Harry, Ron, and Lockhart find the Chamber’s entrance in the bathroom, why can Harry speak Parseltongue? Yes, yes, Voldemort imprinted some of his powers into Harry when he tried to kill him. Got that, not what I mean. Every time Harry’s spoken it, it’s been involuntary. To the snake in the zoo to the snake that Draco summons during the duel, Harry hasn’t known that he’s spoken to them. We don’t see him studying the language at any point, so how does he magically know how to speak it on command?] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [ Why is it important to know that Tom Riddle was a half-blood? I know he says that the reason why he took the name “Voldemort” was to not keep his “filthy Muggle father’s name,” but it’s not like this split bloodline factors much into Voldemort’s character. He could have picked “Voldemort” simply as a re-branding thing. Would anyone really question it? ] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [ Why did it take so long for Godric Gryffindor’s sword to appear in the Sorting Hat? It was all tied to Harry being “a true Gryffindor,” so what happened between catching the hat and it appearing that tipped that proverbial scale in his favor? It sort of sounds like Harry was always a “true Gryffindor.” ] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [ I love how this movie sort of acknowledges that the Sorting Hat is crap. Despite the Hat wanting to put Harry into Slytherin, Harry got to be in Gryffindor because he asked to be. Dumbledore even confirms that it’s choices that matter, not the house that anyone is put in. So why are all the sociopaths in Slytherin and the heroic characters in Gryffindor? Somehow, it would feel a lot more diverse if Harry was in Gryffindor, Ron was in Hufflepuff, and Hermione was in Ravenclaw, so that they could break the mold of their personality labels and feel more like a school group effort was made when Voldemort is beaten. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
<<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>> [ And what did Hagrid do do deserve a ton of applause at the end of the movie? It’s making it out to be like he was the secret hero of the movie, but that really wasn’t the case. I still want to know how he knew to tell Harry and Ron to follow the spiders. It sounds like he was withholding information. Plus, I’m still pretty sure that Harry defeated Voldemort for the second consecutive year in a row. I think he deserves far more applause. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
I suppose this isn’t a true complaint, or anything, but this movie really wanted to be in 3D. There are so many shots of things flying at the camera in that annoying way that 3D movies did.
But it’s time to tackle the positives, as I did mention that it was technically a better film, in my opinion than SORCERER’S STONE.
Returning greats are the adult actors. Richard Harris’ final performance as Dumbledore is still great. Aside from his general regal self, one of my favorite moments is when he’s in Hagrid’s hut, Harry and Ron are hiding in the invisibility cloak, but Dumbledore knows they’re there. Fun little moment. Maggie Smith is also great, as is Alan Rickman, the lot of them.
But to me, some of the newcomers are absolute scene-stealers. Jason Isaacs as Draco’s father? Dude, how much more perfect could that have been? Sleazy, conniving, a face that screams “bad guy.” Phenomenal casting on this end to the point where I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. If Isaacs isn’t being joyfully sinister, then Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart is opposite side of the spectrum and is so gleefully hammy. I love how so full of himself he is and how much he mugs for the camera. He’s just so precious that I loved every moment that he was on camera. Up until toward the end, anyway. The Weasleys were a lot of fun as well. I adored how Mrs. Weasley (Julie Walters) was so furious with her kids for stealing the enchanted car, but was so warm and welcoming to Harry within the same furious explosion of anger. And even though Mr. Weasley is a stereotypical oblivious, but still cool kind of dad, Mark Williams does it so likably well. Even though Ron is unbelievably stupid in this movie, Grint is showing his chops as the comic relief, occasionally stealing the show. I even rather enjoyed Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson). Sure, her voice could grate a little, but it was a weird sensation of being kind of annoying, yet perfectly fitting at the same time. But more than that, she was funny and she also has a fairly tragic backstory. And the indignity of having books thrown at her just because she can’t feel it, I actually felt really sorry for her.
I liked the look of Knockturn Alley. Wish we could have seen more of it. Speaking of which, the production design is still pretty great. While it’s all too easy to make backgrounds from green screen effects, a few practical sets, like Knockturn and Diagon Alley and the Chamber of Secrets itself are great to look at and appreciate.
Overall, I guess now that I’ve got everything down in my review that I don’t like this movie as much as I lead on. In retrospect, I think it just came down to me simply enjoying more of the characters than the previous one, which really elevated the flick for me. It’s still not objectively good, but I still think that it’s a little better than SORCERER’S STONE, though not by much. Clearly, I had A LOT more problems with this movie. So take it for what you will.
My honest rating for HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS: 3/5