By RUSSELL BAILLIE
(Herald rating: * * * )
Warning: the following review may disturb younger readers. Discretion is advised.
Sorry, but I just didn't think it was very good or any better than the first.
Of course, every kid who's been engrossed in the books will love it. Even if the smart ones might think the film has a lower reading age than the source material.
But being a fan of Potter magic and being a fan of movie magic are two different things.
Like last year's first instalment in what will be an ongoing Christmas franchise, Chamber of Secrets is as faithful as possible - within a movie time-frame - in its adaptation of J.K. Rowling's story about the adventures of Harry and schoolmates at their boarding school for aspiring wand-wavers.
But the movie is like a wizard who nervously but accurately reads a spell aloud from a book, rather than one who conjures up his own from the depths of imagination with any dramatic flourish. It might produce the same effect - a box office turned into an international money-making machine - but the execution can leave one underwhelmed.
Again, it seems to have ironed out many of the Anglo-quirks of the book.
Again, the acting of many of the younger cast members leaves a lot to be desired, particularly poor Master Grint as Ron Weasley, whose annoying performance swings from exclaiming "blimey" and looking perplexed to simpering and trying to look really scared.
And it doesn't help that many of the non-special-effects scenes feel as if they were edited using Ron's damaged wand, or a handy bread knife.
The party line was that this one was darker, faster and funnier than the first, without the need to explain who everyone was or introduce us again to the wonders of Hogwarts.
It does start off faster and funnier and more magical, with Harry's escape to the Weasleys in a flying Ford Anglia (
), then back to Hogwarts.
But as the story kicks in we're soon bumbling along from chapter to chapter with some fine comedy sideshows, the best being Branagh's Gilderoy Lockhart, a show-pony celebrity wiz who becomes the school's teacher of defence against the dark arts. And the CGI-created, self-flagellating house elf Dobby is good too.
But - with apologies to Ron's famous intestinal affliction in this instalment - its storytelling is rather sluggish. It gets bogged down - well, Harry, Ron and Hermione, do spend rather a long time in the girls' loos figuring out the mystery.
The Hogwarts staff - with Richard Harris enigmatic to the end as Dumbledore - are incidental props in this one, which spends more time on the inevitable Quidditch match, playing like an extended advertisement for the inevitable videogame spin-off.
And if it's darker, that's more to do with the various CGI beasties we meet along the way (Wah! Spiders!) than any real shift into the shadows.
Yes, there is a theme of racism, about "mudblood" wizards of mixed parentage, whom the devious Lucius Malfoy (Isaacs), father of the despicable Draco (Tom Felton), wishes Hogwarts rid of. But it soft-pedals on the subject, making the film's anti-mudblood faction look simply snobbish rather than truly hateful.
In the end the film is as good as the first one, just as faithful to the book and just as uninspired by any sense of movie magic that isn't about special effects.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs
Director: Chris Columbus
Running time: 161 mins
Rating: PG (frightening fantasy sequences and violence)
Screening: Village, Hoyts, Berkeley, Bridgeway