Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Director Chris Columbus bows out of the “Harry Potter” franchise with a competent, workmanlike effort that retells JK Rowling’s plot but fails to capture the novel’s spirit or essence.

The second film in the cinematic cash cow sees Hogwarts students Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint), and Hermione (Watson) try to uncover the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets.

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As a series of students become petrified – turned to stone, that is, although very young audience members might find themselves equally scared by some intense set-pieces – everyone wants to know who’s leaving mysterious messages about the imminent arrival of the “heir of Slytherin”.

As panic starts to spread, the wand of suspicion points directly in Harry’s direction…

In fairness to Columbus, the special effects here will have you reclining in your seat, admiring the spectacle. Unfortunately, the film’s pedestrian pacing won’t get you on the edge of it.

As with “Philosopher’s Stone”, the main pleasure comes from the all-star adult cast: Kenneth Branagh is note-perfect as vain Dark Arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart, while Jason Isaacs camps it up to great effect as the villainous Lucius Malfoy.

Another success comes with the CG Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones), a self-flagellating elf whose attempts to help Harry only hinder.

Alas, while the elder thesps shine, some of the younger actors have a mugging rate rivalled only by your average inner-city.

The one exception is Emma Watson, who captures know-it-all Hermione’s character perfectly.

Ardent fans of the book – especially those under 16 – will find much to enjoy here, with the Death Day Party and a sub-plot about Percy’s love life the only major cuts from the novel.

The less committed, however, may find the magic failing to do the trick second time round.

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