"Don't you think on it one bit"

The Chamber of Secrets marks a step upwards in maturity for the Harry Potter franchise. Sure, it's still aimed primarily at kids, but it's still enjoyable by us older folks.

The film benefits from not having to go through all the introductions and laying out of the ground rules that the first film dutifully provided. There's more room for story, which is still important despite clocking in at well over two hours (like the first one).

In his second year at Hogwarts, Harry finds himself less in everyone's good graces, and embroiled in themes of racism and classism. The embodiment of this is the undercurrent of superiority that so-called "purebloods" feel over those with Muggle (non-magic, for those not up-to-date on their Potter) parents - something dates back to the beginnings of the school. This ratchets up the tension with Malfoy, who was pretty much just annoying in the first film - and honestly, he's still fairly annoying here, but now there's a point to it, of sorts. The new sinister element is Malfoy's father, who turns out to be a governor of the school, and we see where the younger gets his ideas about the social order. The school plunges into some real trouble, this time around, raising the stakes over the first movie.

We also have Kenneth Branaugh as the publicity-hungry replacement defense-against-the-dark-arts teacher. He's meant to be comic relief, but is established too quickly as a buffoon to really catch us off guard.

A slight spoiler here - but I need to explain a little for my main criticism of the film. The main plotline involves a hidden chamber in the school, said to contain some monstrous and threatening. The chambers was opened once, some fifty years prior, resulting in destruction and deaths among the students. The chamber is opened again... and this time, people seem to only get inconveniently paralyzed. The explanation for the difference is astoundingly weak. It makes the threat seem less than real, when really I think the film is scared of presenting death to its audience, though it's fine referencing it in the abstract. To me, if this film asks its viewers to be sophisticated enough to handle its adult themes and running time, then a little death shouldn't be a problem.

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