STAR WARS Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Written by: Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’O & Domhnall Gleeson

The STAR WARS series has experienced many ups-and-downs during its four decades of existence. While most fans consider the original trilogy to be an untouchable trio of classics, I only consider two of them to be great films (Episodes IV and V) and think that Episode VI is a bit of a mess. While most fans also seem to despise the prequel trilogy entirely, I actually enjoy two of those films (Episodes II and III) and consider Episode I to be the worst STAR WARS movie in existence. In recent years, Episode VII was an entertaining blast (even if it was too reminiscent of Episode IV) and ROGUE ONE turned out to be my third favorite films in the franchise. Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI has garnered lots of mixed reactions. Some fans adore it, some fans hate it, and critics seem to generally love it. Where do I fall? Well, I’m somewhere in the middle-ground. THE LAST JEDI is…okay.

Picking up directly after the events of Episode VII, scavenger-turned-heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and wishes to be trained as a Jedi. Luke is convinced that the Jedi are a dying breed and the universe is doomed, so he’s reluctant to take Rey on as an apprentice. Meanwhile, the Resistance find themselves running from a First Order fleet that can track them through lightspeed. With dwindling fuel supplies and a race-against-time, stormtrooper-turned-ally Finn (John Boyega), determined pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), and maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) attempt to thwart the First Order’s tracking device…before they all wind up in the deadly clutches of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his emotionally unstable Sith apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

On the positive side of things, LAST JEDI introduces cool new ideas for that mystical energy known as “The Force.” There are “Force” moments (with Rey and Kylo Ren) that manage to develop characters in brave new ways. Daisy Ridley’s Rey isn’t shown to the be all-powerful bad-ass that she was in Episode VII because she’s thrown into a few situations that she can’t get out of alone. These moments deliberately fix the complaint that people had towards her being a “Mary Sue” in Episode VII. At the same time, Kylo Ren is made into a not entirely evil antagonist. Some people have complained that he’s not a scary villain, but I think the fact that you can somewhat sympathize with him and understand his intentions make him scarier…because you understand him.

The script also does things with the character of Luke Skywalker that I appreciated. Mark Hamill hasn’t always been the greatest actor (even in the series that made him famous) and he delivers certain lines in an unconvincing wooden manner. Still, Hamill’s Skywalker is a nice blast from the past. This aged Skywalker has grown jaded with the Jedi, the Sith, the Force, and the universe as a whole. One might argue that he pouts more than Kylo Ren did in the first film. However, I thought it was nice change of pace to see this hero fall from grace and become a reclusive hermit (in a similar fashion to what Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi did after Episode III).

Now, I’ll dive into some of Episode VIII’s negative aspects. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is in this film, but seems to have been included out of an obligation as opposed to a necessity. She also has one of the dumbest scenes in the entire film. It seemed like the script was moving into an extremely ballsy direction (that would have echoed the utter darkness and despair of Episode V), but coped out in the lamest way possible. I’d love to hear some people defend this scene (it happens early on and you’ll definitely know it when you see it), because I had to keep myself from laughing out loud at how ridiculous it looked and what a cheap remedy it was.

The idea of being on the run from the First Order with fuel that’s slowly (but surely) running out is a good one. It’s basically like the space opera version of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. The film gets milks tension out of its premise and introduces a subplot that could have been potentially awesome. However, this subplot (featuring Finn, Poe, and newcomer Rose) seems like a waste of time. It’s all totally inconsequential to what matters in this film and feels like we wasted nearly a third of screen time watching it progress towards nothing. Also, the film writes off a few interesting characters in extremely disappointing ways. I won’t dive too deeply into who they are, but they deserved better send-offs than the anti-climactic shrugs they received.

As far as spectacle is concerned, LAST JEDI nails its chases. fights, and battles. There is plenty of entertainment to be found in those sequences and the effects mostly look just as great as you’d expect them to in a huge blockbuster made by one of the biggest movie studios in existence. One fight scene in which Kylo Ren and Rey are placed in the same room sticks out as one of the film’s biggest highlights. Meanwhile, a trip to a casino planet offers a lot of neat creatures and genuinely funny comic relief (although it is ultimately included in the inconsequential subplot). My one complaint with Episode VIII’s spectacle comes in the Porgs…annoying creatures that serve as an excuse to sell toys. At least the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks served a purpose in their films. I can’t say anything pleasant about the Porgs.

STAR WARS Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI is on the same level as Episode II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES and Episode VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI for me. There are qualities that I really enjoyed about this film. I liked the jaded Luke Skywalker, new aspects of the Force, the spectacular action scenes, and the further development of Rey and Kylo Ren. I didn’t like what the film did with Leia, a disappointing subplot that went absolutely nowhere, and a few characters who have been removed from the series in the lamest ways possible. I’m interested enough to see where Episode IX takes us in two years, but my expectations for Disney’s STAR WARS revival series have been knocked down a peg. Due to the polarizing reactions from fans on this film, it’s safe to say that you’ll just have to see this one to decide for yourself. I thought it was okay…but I expect my STAR WARS films to be better than okay.

Grade: B-

ROGUE ONE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence

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Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Written by: Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker & James Earl Jones

Now that STAR WARS Episode VII has gone down as the third-highest-grossing film of all-time, it seems that the Christmas season has also become STAR WARS season and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. ROGUE ONE is the first in a trilogy of standalone “anthology” films set in the STAR WARS universe. In other words, this is the first non-episode of STAR WARS and functions on its own plot that happens to take place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Though not without flaws, ROGUE ONE is a spectacular new installment in the STAR WARS universe!

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Set after Episode III and before Episode IV, ROGUE ONE tells the story of how the Death Star plans fell into the hands of the Rebellion. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of gifted scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who was recruited by the Empire when she was a young girl. Fifteen years later, Jyn is a rough-around-the-edges troublemaker and finds herself unwillingly “rescued” (captured) by Rebel Forces. The Empire has built a planet killer (the Death Star) and the Rebellion wishes to “take care” (assassinate) it’s creator Galen. However, Jyn discovers top-secret details that could save her father’s life as well as the crush the Empire’s greatest weapon altogether. Aided by gruff officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), sarcastic droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), nutty pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and heavily armed mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Jyn leads a rogue mission into enemy territory to steal the Death Star plans.

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It should say something about how well-executed ROGUE ONE is that I already knew how this movie would end thanks to Episode IV, yet still found myself on the edge of my seat and caught up in the heat of the moment. This movie’s focus is on a smaller, more contained story (even though it spans through galaxies and planets) about a group of outcasts trying to make a difference in the fight between good and evil. The plot is at-times simple to the point of relying on unnecessary, cheesy clichés in its first half. However, it all becomes totally satisfying and action-packed when every bit of build-up pays off during the film’s adrenaline-pumping second half.

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A few clichés aren’t the only nagging turbulence that ROGUE ONE encounters during its flight though, because the first 10 minutes had me worried about how the rest of the film would play out. There’s an obligatory prologue sequence, which felt like it belonged in a Disney cartoon as opposed to a STAR WARS story. After that bit of predictable clumsiness, the opening jumps around far too much as we get tons of character introductions and planetary settings (some of which don’t even come back into play and only exist to lay down groundwork)…for ten minutes straight! I was becoming seriously concerned with how the rest of this film would play out, but luckily the story become much more compelling and focused as it went along.

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ROGUE ONE’s performances are mostly solid with a couple of minor slip-ups. Felicity Jones makes a great leading lady and the second-best STAR WARS heroine thus far (not a massive compliment, but still worth something). Diego Luna starts off like so-so Han Solo imitator, but then becomes his own complicated character. Alan Tudyk steals much of the show as a blunt reprogrammed droid and receives a ton of well-earned laughs as a result. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are convincing as a pair of bad-ass heroes and unlikely friends, stealing certain moments and providing unexpected emotion later on.

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Riz Ahmed doesn’t add a ton to the proceedings, but makes the most of his brief scenes. Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker, the latter of which seems uncomfortable and embarrassingly inept as a raspy-voiced extremist, are both squandered as Gareth Edwards continues to waste great acting talent in a similar fashion to his throwaway role for Bryan Cranston in 2014’s GODZILLA. Finally, Ben Mendelsohn is believably scummy and despicable as the story’s main villain, making for a different kind of antagonist this time around.

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In the realm of technical accomplishments, ROGUE ONE features some of the best CGI I’ve seen in quite a while as familiar faces from the past reappear. Though the effects bringing these characters (you’ll know who I’m talking about when/if you see the movie) to life aren’t perfect, they did effectively trick my brain multiple times and also elicited a few gasps from audience members. The various alien species (not too many this time around) mostly seem to be executed through stellar make-up and puppetry. The space battles (regulated to the film’s second half) are appropriately exciting and emotional stakes throw greater impact into them. Again, we all know how this story ends thanks to Episode IV’s existence, but ROGUE ONE manages to keep us excited and entertained nonetheless.

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ROGUE ONE is easily my third-favorite STAR WARS film thus far (falling just beneath EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and A NEW HOPE). This film does things that the other STAR WARS episodes haven’t done before and feels remarkably refreshing as a result. As much as I liked THE FORCE AWAKENS, it’s essentially a buffed-up retread of A NEW HOPE and follows plot points that STAR WARS has previously covered many times before. ROGUE ONE is concerned about telling its own story. This tale is not without some flaws; thanks to Whitaker’s bad performance, a few clichés and the shaky opening. Still, it’s a cinematic tale that kept my adrenaline pumping, supplied a steady stream of well-earned laughs, was fueled by emotional stakes, and left me very satisfied as I left the theater. The ending of ROGUE ONE is likely to make you crave an immediate rewatch of Episode IV through new eyes…and cleverly fixes a major plot hole that fans have complained about for decades. Whether you’re watching it as a prequel, a sequel or a standalone story, if you’re a STAR WARS fan, then you’re bound to enjoy ROGUE ONE!

Grade: A-

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2 (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of Intense Action Violence and Frightening Images

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Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Kelly Macdonald, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith & David Thewlis

Though the decision to split HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS into two films still seems like a mistake on Warner Bros.’ part, this eighth (and final) film in the HARRY POTTER saga is cinematically spectacular final installment nonetheless. Sure, Part 2 understandably feels like the second half of a better whole, but that narrative flaw doesn’t have nearly the same impact in dipping quality that 2010’s Part 1 saw. Details from the previous films come into play, major plot revelations about certain characters come to light, and the HARRY POTTER saga comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

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After narrowly escaping the clutches of Death Eaters, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are searching for Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes (dark magical objects that contain pieces of his soul). Their magical scavenger hunt takes them into the dark vaults of Gringotts Bank and then to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With only three Horcruxes left and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) determined to kill “chosen one” Harry, Hogwarts will become the battleground for a massive confrontation. Prophecies will be fulfilled, truths will be revealed, deaths will occur on both sides and a final battle will decide the fate of the wizarding world.

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DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2 is the exciting second half of a cohesive whole. This leads to some narrative issues as viewers will have to be fresh off DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 to fully appreciate Part 2 picking up mere seconds after that far lesser film concluded. There are only two major settings in this movie: Gringotts and Hogwarts. Gringotts Wizarding Bank was briefly glimpsed in THE SORCERER’S STONE, but Part 2 treats the viewer to a more in-depth look at the Goblin-run bank’s treacherous vaults filled with curses, elaborate security precautions and a show-stopping set piece that delivers excitement early on. As for Hogwarts, old places and familiar faces come into play as Harry desperately searches the corridors for a hidden chunk of Voldemort’s soul.

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In terms of spectacle, DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2 delivers action that fans wanted to see on the big screen since the series began. There’s a massive battle featuring damn near every major character and supporting actor from the previous films, even Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson pop in just to reprise their professors in the final conflict. The special effects and make-up work are just as solid as ever, though director David Yates occasionally goes a bit too over-the-top during final Harry vs. Voldemort fight. Though a tense wand duel throughout Hogwarts is stellar, a scene of Voldemort and Harry whizzing through the air like Superman is silly to say the least.

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There is no need to recap this final film’s many performances, because we’ve seen all these characters and cast members before. Nothing has changed in their greatness. However, I will say that there’s a sense of maturity in seeing these beloved characters and the series as a whole grow throughout the years. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching the conclusion to this eight-film-long franchise, be it from sheer nostalgia or fantastic storytelling. Voldemort’s speech to the tearful wizards and witches of Hogwarts is affecting. Two major plot revelations bring about the yearning to rewatch previous entries and cast a new light on the series as a whole. However, the titular Deathly Hallows once again feel like a throwaway subplot that’s merely there as a cheap plot device. Also, Alan Rickman’s Snape story arc delivers one of the most emotional sequences in the entire series.

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Would HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS have functioned better as one big three-hour film? I think so and it might have stood next to PRISONER OF AZKABAN as the best film of the series. Part 2 and (to an annoying degree) Part 1 both have scenes that could have been excised for a tighter, better film. I feel this finale could have functioned better as one long seventh movie. Still, in spite of being the second half of a whole story, DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2 stands as one of the better films in the long-running fantasy series. Plot points are wrapped up in emotional ways with revelations that cast a new light on previous movies. We get to spend one last time with a large cast of beloved characters. The battle at Hogwarts also stands as the series’ most epic moment. DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2 is a deeply satisfying final installment to an unforgettable cinematic saga.

Grade: A-

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of Intense Action Violence, Frightening Images and brief Sensuality

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Directed by: David Yates

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton & David Thewlis

Confession time: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is probably my least favorite book in the series. It’s an underwhelming conclusion to a groundbreaking fantasy series. However, the material seemed like it would make an exciting film. Enter the Warner Bros. execs who upon realizing they only had one HARRY POTTER adaptation left to milk for cash decided to keep the blockbuster train rolling for two more films. Though many fans seemed initially disappointed by the studio’s route, that didn’t stop this seventh film from becoming the third-highest grossing HARRY POTTER title in the franchise (behind the eighth film and the first film). DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 isn’t a bad movie. It’s better than a majority of split book adaptations (e.g. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY and THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY Part 1), but that doesn’t overshadow the fact that this is still half a story being stretched into over two hours.

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In the aftermath of Dumbledore’s death, the wizarding world has become dark and hopeless. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is tightening his grip on the Ministry of Magic and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is taking over Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Chosen one Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is Voldemort’s prime target, which has led secretive rebel group Order of the Phoenix to stage a complicated rescue mission. After some casualties ensue and Voldemort’s Death Eaters find the Order’s location, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) venture out on their own to track down Voldemort’s secret Horcruxes, magical objects that contain pieces of his soul. These dark magical objects must be destroyed in order to kill the Dark Lord…and the trio kick off their deadly scavenger hunt by hunting down a cursed locket.

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While the HARRY POTTER series had been progressively getting darker and darker through the previous six films, DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 ranks as the most depressing installment of the series. Part of this might be attributed to the “To Be Continued…” ending, while another reason easily comes from major character deaths that might shock those who haven’t read the material beforehand. However, I feel the main reason that DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 succeeds in being a suspenseful installment is because Harry, Ron and Hermione become fugitives. The corrupt wizard government no longer offers any safeguards towards the chosen one and is actively following Voldemort’s agenda. The lack of a safety net and danger coming from all directions offer a feeling of dread that the series has previously never seen before.

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It should come as no surprise that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson slip right back into their iconic roles with ease. Though the rising threats cause tensions to erupt between their characters. Much like the film’s dark tone, this isn’t necessarily something completely new in the series but it’s never been executed to this degree. When we see longtime grudges emerge and drama between the three best friends, it’s a bit tough to watch because we’ve come to love these characters for so long. Still, these are the same protagonists, just more mature and grown up. Harry is just as courageous as ever. Hermione is smart and frequently gets the group out of trouble. Ron delivers comic relief that attempts to brighten up the rather depressing plot.

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Other familiar faces return with Dobby (the most annoying character in the series), Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), worst teacher ever Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a cameo from Wormtail (Timothy Spall), a hardly glimpsed Ollivander (John Hurt), a psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), and many more. Ralph Fiennes has two scenes as Voldemort, while Snape’s presence is mostly regulated to the opening prologue. Series newcomers appear in: Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, Andy Linden as scumbag Mundungus Fletcher, Peter Mullan as Death Eater Yaxley, and Rhys Ifans as Luna Lovegood’s eccentric father Xenophilius. All four of these characters serve as plot devices and nothing more.

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DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 is entertaining and nicely sets up the conclusion to the series, but unfortunately falls victim to an unnecessarily lengthy running time. Perhaps, Part 1 wouldn’t feel underwhelming if this movie wasn’t as long as previous HARRY POTTER entries. There are (at least) 20 minutes that could have been excised for the sake of a tighter running time and a more compelling movie as a whole. The introduction of the titular Deathly Hallows (three legendary magical objects) seems disconnected from the rest of the movie, because the exposition dump functions as an introduction for DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 2. Also, this plot point directly contradicts a piece of the series that was introduced in SORCERER’S STONE and I’ve never been able to completely overlook that. This sloppy bit of writing leads me to believe that J.K. Rowling didn’t have the series fully mapped out in her head as she was going along.

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DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 isn’t the worst HARRY POTTER film. GOBLET OF FIRE still holds that title and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE is 75% filler, but Part 1 is still very much the first half of a plot and feels like it. The long running time certainly doesn’t help matters, but there are memorable sequences that stick out for positive reasons. I love the confrontations that Harry, Ron and Hermione have with various Death Eaters, especially a climactic showdown. There are tense scenarios brought up in visiting the Ministry of Magic in disguise and the completion of the cursed locket storyline. This is also the darkest HARRY POTTER film with a “doom and gloom” atmosphere the whole way through. DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1 is far from the best installment in the HARRY POTTER series, but still remains a solid movie in the decade-long saga.

Grade: B

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Scary Moments, some Creature Violence and mild Language

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Directed by: Chris Columbus

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith & Tom Felton

Warner Brothers was confident that HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE would be a hit. How confident were they? Well, they believed in the film enough to begin production on a sequel three days after the first movie hit theaters. This sequel brought back director Chris Columbus, who opted for different filmmaking techniques this time around that greatly benefitted the film, and is a faithful-to-a-fault adaptation of the second novel in the HARRY POTTER book series. CHAMBER OF SECRETS is one of those rare sequels that not only lives up to its predecessor, but easily surpasses it.

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is spending a rather depressing summer at his abusive uncle’s home, but things liven up in a bad way when masochistic house elf Dobby gives Harry a messy warning not to return to school. The second year at Hogwarts is off to a rocky start as it seems someone has it out for Harry (sabotaging the Hogwarts Express gateway, tampering with a Quidditch equipment), but those are the least of his problems. Something ancient and deadly has been unleashed in Hogwarts. It’s literally petrifying victims who see it and may kill someone very soon. Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must get to the bottom of another mystery before Hogwarts is forced to close its doors for good.

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Though it still has a child-friendly attitude and is significantly more light-hearted than later entries in the series, CHAMBER OF SECRETS is darker than SORCERER’S STONE. There’s still a fantasy-mystery at the center of this film, but the stakes are higher in that people are actually being petrified and there’s a strange beast stalking the students. There a few scenes that are bound to give little kids nightmares yet again (especially those who are afraid of spiders or snakes).

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With only a year’s worth of extra experience, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all improved greatly in natural line delivery and believable emotions. Seeing the reunion of Harry (a hero worth rooting for), Ron (great comic relief and a solid sidekick) and Hermione (bringing smarts and exposition) is akin to watching real-life friends meet up. Tom Felton also gets a lot more to do this time around as cocky rival Draco Malfoy. The returning adult cast receives noticeably less screen time, though Alan Rickman is still phenomenal as Snape, Richard Harris is perfect as Dumbledore, and Robbie Coltrane steals his scenes as the lovable Hagrid.

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New characters and fresh faces include: aforementioned CGI monstrosity Dobby, cocky incompetent professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), weeping ghost Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson), and menacing Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs). Much more time is also spent with the charming Weasley family. The best new addition is easily Kenneth Branagh’s headstrong Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, who provides a lot of comic relief and frustrating plot developments in equal measure. Moaning Myrtle gets a couple of grim laughs, while Jason Isaacs is great as Draco’s threatening father.

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The worst character is easily Dobby. I know he might be a fan favorite in certain circles and he certainly plays a significant role in this film’s plot (and in later films), but I see Dobby as HARRY POTTER’s Jar-Jar Binks. He’s annoying, his humor mostly falls flat and I found myself taken out of the film every time he popped up. His final scene also contains a big plot hole pertaining to a certain curse that another character is trying to cast. It opens up a big gap in the series’ logic that makes no sense when you eventually find out about that specific spell in the fourth film.

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CHAMBER’s pacing moves quickly and the script pretty much captures every major scene from the novel. It’s faithful to a fault in that exposition is somewhat too fast and convenient, but that’s the result of filmmakers trying to cram 341 heavily detailed pages into less than three hours. I feel they succeeded, but some of the plot details are a bit heavy-handed. One element that is welcomed is the prejudice between “pure blood” wizards and “mud-bloods” (Muggle-born wizards and witches). This is a remarkably mature element in a PG-rated fantasy.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS is bigger, funnier, darker, faster, and all around better than the first film. It’s slightly grim shift in tone signaled the maturity that later films in the series would follow. Though it’s not without a couple of complaints (which could be considered to be minor gripes), CHAMBER OF SECRETS is an exciting fantasy-adventure that outdoes its predecessor in every conceivable way.

Grade: A-

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