It's year two for Harry Potter at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. When several of his fellow pupils turn up in a petrified state, suspicion at first falls on Harry. He sets about solving the mystery with friends Ron and Hermione.
Time for Chapter Two of Harry Potter And The Biggest Franchise In Film History.
Kids have been gagging for it ever since they threw their remote controls at the wall in frustration at not being able to access the deleted scenes on the Philosopher's Stone DVD. Adults aren't quite as hyped up second time round, maybe because the momentum was broken by the non-appearance of the fifth volume of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard tales. The result - basically an on-screen illustration of the book, not a proper 'movie' by any structural cinematic definition - will keep avid fans happy with its completeness, but confuse and at times bore the casual or non-reader with its reverential approach to the source material.
The assumption - and it's a fair one at that - is that everyone who sees this will have seen the original. So there's no need to pack in as much explanation of how the wizard world works or about Harry's backstory - the scar, his parents, Voldemort, everything that sets him apart from the other pupils. Chamber Of Secrets treats all of this as presumed knowledge and even abandons Rowling's school calendar structure when the action moves swiftly to Hogwarts. Instead, the focus falls on the central mystery (minus some diverting red herrings) while breaking the flow with a few upgraded favourite scenes, including a breakneck Quiddich chase.
The teachers - even Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane, who as Snape and Hagrid provided much of the first film's fun - are relegated to the background, which places even more responsibility on the shoulders of young Daniel Radcliffe. No longer has he simply to gape in wonder at the magic around him: this time the kid's got to act and, during the final encounter with 'Tom Riddle', Harry's fierce loyalty and bravery finds a determined Radcliffe hitting all the right dramatic notes. Harry, as a character, is beginning to come of age; this movie nudges towards a darker good-versus-evil thread for later movies. Radcliffe, too, is making the move from boy to teenager. His voice has broken and, if it keeps deepening at the present rate, he'll be out-rumbling Vin Diesel before they've even got to Goblet Of Fire.
Overall, Chamber Of Secrets' high points are funnier, scarier and more action-heavy than in the first movie. The effects also look more polished - no dodgy centaurs this time - and Dobby the house elf is an expressive little creation, even if he does induce that CG-inflicted disease, 'jarjaritis', during an early scene with Harry. On his second and probably final Potter flick, director Chris Columbus shows more visual confidence, and has become more daring with his swooping computer-assisted camera shots across landscapes and locations. But the film's length does remain a stumbling block - you could adapt War And Peace in a shorter running time - so perhaps only the most attentive children will remain spellbound for its entirety.
Such is the Harry Potter phenomenon that it's impossible (and maybe unfair) to compare Chamber Of Secrets to anything other than Rowling's books and the original movie. In those terms, it's what the fans demand, but a slight snub for the uninitiated. That said, it also offers a more imaginatively colourful world than almost every other children's film out there.