What worked so well for director Chris Columbus in the first film of this series, often fails him here. Slavish devotion to the book might have pleased author J. K. Rowling, and her legions of fans, but it made for an oddly muted, flat film that committed heavily to the text of the book, but not the atmosphere – the complete opposite of the next film in the series, the vastly superior “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.
The story of the second book, and film, is one of the more compelling stories of the series. But the atmosphere, the sense of dread and fear, rarely comes across in the film, which often feels like a series of disconnected scenes without a greater cohesive atmosphere governing them, much like successive chapters of a book, but not logical scene transitions in a film.
I have absolutely no issue with filmmakers adapting books by making plenty of changes and cuts. I wouldn’t even complain if they ignored the tone and atmosphere of a book, so long as they created a compelling one of their own. But that’s not what happened here. It’s a flat adaptation of one of the most atmospheric books in the series.
However, it’s not a bad film. Many of the strengths of the first film are still present; the cast, the music, the worldbuilding. The stronger plot of the sequel does reduce the aimless feel the first film often succumbed to, and the pacing is tighter. Plenty of interesting new characters are introduced, with some compelling performances – Jason Isaacs is really, really good as Lucius Malfoy, and Kenneth Branagh is the highlight of the film for me, in his insufferable performance as Gilderoy Lockhart.
I give it two and a half diary pages, and a basilisk’s fang.