By Scott Brown
Updated March 17, 2020 at 02:49 AM EDT
Credit: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets: Peter Mountain

J.K. Rowling’s gift is finding something revelatory in the workaday: In her Harry Potter universe, wizards solve ordinary problems with extraordinary magic. Director Chris Columbus has the opposite gift: He never fails to make the revelatory feel workaday.

That said, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a better, looser, more vivacious movie than its predecessor. And that’s not saying much. But ”Chamber”’s shortcomings aren’t all Columbus’ fault. Rowling’s books are often likened to screen treatments, but a TV miniseries might be a better comparison, as each tome is episodic and chockablock with side stories. Columbus does little to smooth those transitions in adapting Rowling’s dark tale of ethnic cleansing, which centers on a hidden menace hell-bent on eliminating Muggle-born wizards. Such a serious story line doesn’t mesh well with consequence-free sadism masquerading as kid empowerment (Columbus’ usual ”Home Alone” MO). And the fact that Harry & Co. must once again solve all Hogwarts’ problems unassisted makes the wise and mighty faculty look dangerously incompetent.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 161 minutes
  • Chris Columbus