[MOVIE REVIEW]Muggles can rejoice -- Potter's back and better

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[MOVIE REVIEW]Muggles can rejoice -- Potter's back and better

With the second film of this incredibly profitable and popular septet of magic, "Harry Potter" is beginning to hit its stride. Both the movie and Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) are older, more mature and more sure of themselves.

"The Chamber of Secrets" begins back at Harry's dreaded relatives' house. No longer living under the stairs, Harry has graduated to his cousin's second bedroom, but is no less despised by the despicable family.

Right away, there seem to be forces at work conspiring to prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, not the least of which is an annoying house elf named Dobby.

But with the help of his friends, Harry soon gets to Hogwarts, ready to begin his second year. The usual suspects are all there, the headmaster Albus Dumbledore (the late Richard Harris, in his last film), the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) and Harry's nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton).

Joining the mix this time is Draco's even more villainous father Lucius (Jason Isaacs), who definitely has plans of his own.

It doesn't take long, though, for Harry, Ron (Rupert Grant) and Hermione (Emma Watson) to realize that all is not well at their school. A mysterious force is petrifying the Hogwarts' residents (literally, it's turning them to stone), and those with Muggle blood have even worse to fear.

Fortunately, the school now has the magnificent -- and magnificently vain -- Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, to help save the day. Or perhaps not.

Chris Columbus does a satisfactory job directing "The Chamber of Secrets," although at 2 hours, 40 minutes it does go on for too long, and too many of the adventures along the way lead to dead ends. In addition, the story turns to deus ex machina far too often to get Harry and his friends out of whatever their latest jam is.

But the darker tone of the story is welcome, at least for this adult viewer, although it is probably too intense for younger viewers. And the film's message of the power of our choices is also impressive, at least in a seemingly light film.

After the whole "Philosopher's Stone," "Sorcerer's Stone" confusion of the first Harry Potter film, I was cheered to see the Americans didn't feel the need to rename the latest installment "Harry Potter and the Room of Secrets." Score one for literacy.

One of the most amusing parts of "The Chamber of Secrets" is how it fits together with "The Philosopher's Stone," as seemingly throwaway lines and events from the first film come back with newfound significance.

With the introduction of Draco's father as a major player and the further glimpses of Harry's past, we have the makings of a genuine saga.

by Mark Russell

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