We see even more of the exquisitely realized Harry Potter universe in this outing: best friend Ron Weasley's family's topsy-turvy home, headmaster Dumbledore's study, and every conceivable nook of the Hogwarts castle are explored. The spectacular set pieces--the flying car, Moaning Myrtle's lavatory haunt, and the Chamber itself--serve not just as gee-whiz moments, but enhance the mood of the film beautifully. Most of the characters are returning from the first film--and a delight it is to see them, from Richard Harris' magisterial Dumbledore to Daniel Radcliffe's more assured Harry. Kenneth Branagh is a splendid addition, all-too-perfectly cast as the preening Gilderoy Lockhart.
Are there nits to be picked? Some of the juvenile performers are still a little shaky. But perhaps the only real problem with "Chamber of Secrets" is that it leaves us all too impatient for the next installment, a long, long year away. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Kenneth Branagh and Maggie Smith. Directed by Chris Columbus. Written by Steven Kloves. Produced by David Heyman. A Warner Bros. release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild language. Running time: 160 min