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Harry Potter 2 is sure to do well with fans of the books and the previous movie. Although audiences will find similarities and differences that convince them the sequel is better or worse than the original, the truth is they are largely the same movie.

Same Difference

Richard Harris bids farewell to the screen
Richard Harris bids farewell to the screen

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets picks up after Harry’s big victory over Voldemort. He’s spending the summer at home with his cruel uncle and aunt, who are embarrassed by Harry’s unusual talents, so much so that they keep him locked away in his bedroom, especially when entertaining guests.

Harry’s friends from school show up one night in a flying car to take him back to Hogwart’s for the new school year. Harry is eager to return, in spite of the warning from a house elf named Dobbie, who foretells grave danger if he goes back.

Back at Hogwart’s, things are both the same and different. All the old friends are there; Hermione, Ron, and Harry make an inseparable threesome. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall are back with their hard shells and soft hearts. And of course the spoiled brat Malfoy is back for another year of tormenting the Gryffindore residents.

Different Folks

But things are not all the same. A new teacher starts at Hogwart’s this year. Kenneth Branagh brightens every scene as Gilderoy Lockhart with his heartthrob good looks and enormous ego.

This second film also introduces some surprising creatures, including a horde of scary spiders and a very well rendered computer generated elf, whose self-effacing expressions and body language are surprisingly natural for an all-digital character.

Most striking is how much the kids have grown up since last year. No longer tabulae rasae, the young students of magic are starting to develop into fully formed adults. (It’s widely known that Radcliffe’s voice changed during the filming, requiring some creative editing.)

There is also something dark and foreboding at Hogwart’s. Signs painted in blood promise trouble with the school’s Chamber of Secrets, whatever that might be.

Harry and friends later discover that The Chamber of Secrets holds a terrible monster that is paralyzing the students and faculty. It will begin to kill soon if it is not stopped. Those without pure witch/wizard blood, including Hermione, could be the first targets of this beast with a racist master.

Six of One...

The first Harry Potter movie signalled the start of something big. The story followed the archetypal hero’s journey. In contrast, The Chamber of Secrets is a more conventional story, and alas, seems to give its audience less credit. Its black-and-white morality (“racism is bad”) is tacked on, and it features characters making dumb choices (e.g., not reporting certain incidents to the authorities), apparently for the sake of the extending the plot. The Chamber of Secrets elicits much more eyeball rolling than did its predecessor.

On the other hand, it’s easier to get caught up in the story of the sequel. The pace of the original was often interrupted by the necessary introductions to the characters, places, and rules of the world of J.K. Rowling.

Perhaps rather than pitting the two against each other, its easiest to simply say that both movies are very similar, and that if you liked one, you’ll like the other.