There used to be a time where people fought to come up with a list of movies where the sequel was as good or better than the original. That era is over. Hollywood has become far less reactionary to their big hits and become a lot more pro-active working to create solid movie franchises with stories that span over a number of films.
Now rather than a sequel just being a 'lesser copy' or 'rehash' of a previous film, it can actually be an improvement. Director Christopher Columbus and his team have done just that, they taken the lessons learned form the success and failures of Harry Potter and the Sorcererer's Stone and used them to make The Chamber of Secrets a much bolder, entertaining and more engaging film.
A large part of the success of Chamber of Secrets comes from a shift in focus. In Sorcererer's Stone a great deal of time and attention was spent exploring the wizardry and the world of Hogwarts. In Chamber of Secrets all the setup work has been done so the focus is much more on Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley and their adventures. With Chamber of Secrets it's much easier to identify and connect with the main characters and so the films events end up having a far greater impact and intensity.
Unfortunately the film might have succeeded too well at being intense as there are many moments which may be way too intense for younger viewers. While Harry Potter and The Sorcererer's Stone may have played to a much broader and younger audience, The Chamber of Secrets is quite clearly for older kids and adults. Many of the themes in Chamber of Secrets may be too mature for smaller children (like some children getting petrified and dying) and moments that are the stuff which childhood nightmares are made of (like huge spiders chasing after small children and things reaching out and grabbing characters). If you've got a child around eight years old or younger I highly recommend you resist their pleading to see this film, it's not for them. Having said that, for kids at least 10 on up I can't recommend this film enough.
Harry Potter and The Chamber of secrets could have been subtitled 'everything you like about Harry Potter and More'. It's as if Director Christopher Columbus and Screen Writer Steven Kloves sat down and made a list of all the 'home runs' hit with the first film and set out to top them with the second. The result is a dizzying number of action scenes, thrilling sequences, and a big intensification of the drama (especially between Harry and Draco).
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets is certainly one of the better adaptations of a book I've seen. Steven Kloves who also wrote the screenplay for Sorcererer's Stone does a marvelous job of capturing the pure essence of the book while keeping in mind that this IS a movie. Kloves dialogue is sharp and moves along at a great pace. The Chamber of Secrets is actually a slightly longer film than The Sorcerer's Stone but it certainly doesn't feel like it. Kloves should certainly get credit for the great improvement in pacing of the film.
While there are loads of special effects in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, they are blended so well within the live action that you just don't see them as effects. A scene with a car flying through the air certainly made me think back to the magic of seeing the kids fly on their bicycles in ET, it's that kind of movie magic that this film captures. There are several 'digital characters and creatures' in The Chamber of Secrets all of which are done extremely well. I particularly liked Dobby the House Elf a very convicting and three dimensional digital character and the first example of a truly sympathetic digital character.
The real star of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets of course is Daniel Radcliffe who plays Harry Potter. Radcliffe is much stronger an actor in Chamber of Secrets and does a much better job of carrying the film. He has a level of intensity which wasn't apparent in Sorcerer's Stone and has matured as an actor in many of the same ways as Harry Potter has matured as a character.
Radcliffe isn't alone in his strong performance: Rupert Grint reprises his role as Harry's sidekick Ron Weasley and does a solid job with a much meatier role. The late Richard Harris is fantastic again as Headmaster Dumbledore and will surely be missed in future episodes of this franchise.
For me one of the most enjoyable performances in the film is Kenneth Branagh who plays Gilderoy Lockhart (the new Defense from the Black Arts Professor) he really embodies the role and has lots of fun with a fairly silly and likeable character. There's a wonderful scene where Kenneth Branagh and Alan Rickman 'duel' that isn't to be missed. I still can't believe this is the first time we've seen Rickman and Branagh in the same film, they're both such stellar actors! Jason Isaacs gives a stand out performance playing Lucius Malfoy, the father of Harry Potter bully and nemesis Draco Malfoy, he captures the bad guy role so perfectly it'll be a real treat to see more of him in future installments of Harry Potter.
As with the first Harry Potter film, Chamber of Secrets is scored by the masterful John Williams, who again adds intensity and depth the thrills, emotions and excitement in the film. There are a good number of talented film composers out there, but none who can capture the epic adventure like John Williams. He is so good that many Director's have fallen into the trap of depending on his music to carry a scene (see Star Wars Episode II). That mistake isn't made in The Chamber of Secrets where Williams' score compliments, not carries the film. It's one of the more balanced scores he's done.
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets is an extremely enjoyable film. It captures all the magic, mystery, excitement and wonder from J.K. Rowling's book in a way that plays extremely well on screen. If you liked Harry Potter and The Secret Stone then you'll absolutely love Chamber of Secrets, it's 'Harry Potter Times Two' with much more of the stuff that makes Harry Potter so popular and revered. As I mentioned before, Chamber of Secrets ISN'T FOR SMALL CHILDREN, but older kids and adult are going to enjoy it a lot more than The Sorcererer's Stone. Be sure to stick around after the credits roll as there's a cute bonus scene which is good for a laugh and worth the wait.