[Contains a mouthful of slugs and SPOILERS!!!]
Returning to the Harry Potter film franchise, I had the same reaction to Chamber of Secrets (2002) as I did to its predecessor: Good rollicking Fantasy fun, occasionally undermined by the implausible laxity, apathy and incompetence of its adult characters. Example A: There aren’t any safeguards in place to prevent a rogue Quidditch ball (“Bludger”) going rogue and smashing through the struts of the stands on which the school’s staff are sat, placidly watching the destruction (and injuries) it causes! Example B: Hagrid thought the safest and easiest way to prove his innocence to Harry was to send him and Ron, unaccompanied, into the Forbidden Forest at night, to chat with a giant carnivorous spider and its hungry brood! Example C: After the previous Defence Against the Dark Arts tutor turned out to be secretly-evil, Dumbledore chooses to replace him with a preening incompetent, who also happens to be secretly evil! Worst of all, it’s suggested that the only reason Dumbledore’s phoenix (Fawkes) swooped in to save Harry’s bacon during the climactic battle, is because the kid demonstrated an adequate level of loyalty to his headmaster… not because his life (and the fate of the school’s student population) was hanging in the balance! WTF!!!??? I assume we’re supposed to feel warm and fuzzy about Hagrid and Dumbledore, because of how the main characters look up to them, but… no. So far, the only staff member I’ve seen really go out of their way to protect our hero is Snape… and you don’t see him getting any hugs, do you? Sigh…
Those standing issues aside, this sequel is vastly inferior to the first film in one very important regard: The frequent absence and incapacity of Hermione. About an hour from the end of the story the poor girl gets Petrified (in the “turn to stone” sense, rather than the “scared stiff” sense), at which point the actress who plays her, Emma Watson, is replaced by a frozen, bed-ridden facsimile, and the boys bumble along without her until the “all’s well that ends well” epilogue. Feh! Actually, it’s almost worth her taking such a long breather, just to prove that a comatose Hermione is still far more helpful when it comes to solving mysteries than a walking, talking Ron ever could be! Or the entire school faculty put together, in fact.
Thankfully, the film’s entertainment value (and veteran actress count) is significantly boosted by the introduction of Shirley Henderson as ‘Moaning Myrtle’, a very unfortunate ex-pupil, who is now cursed to haunt a girls’ bathroom for all eternity. Poor thing. Still, it could be worse… at least the toilets at Hogwarts are a damn-sight cleaner and homier than the ones in Trainspotting! Either way, I loved her bizarrely morbid attempts to flirt with the still-living Harry, and thought Henderson gave a very spirited performance (pun!) as the capricious, self-pitying ghost-girl… despite being in her late-30s at the time!