Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets: better than the first film. But also very, very similar. This one is darker, funnier and more exciting. The spiders and snakes will scare the kids to death. The plot doesn't stand up to examination, but of course, it is a kids' film. The "revelations" are clearly sign-posted. Anyone who doesn't work out which family Dobby works for the moment he's introduced must be - well - a child.
Just like the first film, the characters here are one-dimensional stereotypes with no subtleties - the goodies are all good, the baddies all bad. Interestingly, the only ambiguous character is computer animated - the house elf, Dobby. It's unclear until the end whether he's really acting in Harry's best interests. Dobby is a brilliant creation, responsible for the film's funniest moments. This is the one everyone will be talking about - a beautifully-realised CGI character, with his hangdog expression and 'beat me' attitude. He's fantastic, funny and loveable. Jar Jar Binks, he ain't. Gooood Dobby!
The human characters, of course, are played by a veritable who's who of British actorrrs: Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Miriam Margolyes and the late Richard Harris, who received warm applause last night when his name appeared in the credits. Kenneth Branagh steals the film as the cowardly Gilderoy Lockhart. Watch out for his fleeting reappearance after the final credits.
So it's more of the same. And, boy, do I mean more! Two hours and forty minutes. Fans of the book may feel that's not long enough. Personally, I could quite happily lose all the school stuff - the house points system, the quidditch game, the Enid Blyton territory - and cut to the chase. And what a chase! Once Harry and chums enter the enchanted forest, the film takes off and is genuinely thrilling. The production design is terrific - the chamber of secrets itself carries off the snake motif imaginatively. There are fabulous doors with live snakes for locks, giant sculptures of serpents, and a chase through long, sinuous pipes.
It will be interesting to see what changes will be wrought in the third film in the series, The Prisoner of Azkaban. There's a change of director - it's out with Chris Columbus, and in with a potentially exciting choice - Alfonso Cuarón, the director of Y tu mamá también. Can we hope to see Harry and Ron as oversexed teenagers trying to shag Hermione?