Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The film version of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” has a distinct been-there, done-that feel about it.

The first film vividly depicted the magical world of wizard-in-training Harry Potter, and it was a delight to see the richly detailed narrative of the book brought to life.

But we’ve seen it. Now, in the second movie, we need to see them DO something with it.

Unfortunately, “Chamber of Secrets” is the least interesting of the four novels. The first book had the novelty of Hogwarts and its inhabitants going for it, and books three and four (and presumably the eagerly anticipated five through seven) grow successively darker and more intricate. “Chamber of Secrets” is somewhere in between, past the exposition but not quite to the real heart of the series yet.

With “Chamber of Secrets” being secondary in quality to its brethren, it is no surprise that the film version seems like a bit of fluff that we munch on while waiting for the good stuff to arrive.

Even within the film, we have to wait. Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves are as slavishly devoted to the text as they were in the first film. This means 30 minutes of movie time before Harry even gets to Hogwarts, and another 15 minutes after that before the first hint of the film’s plot. Forty-five minutes is a lot of time to waste, especially when your movie runs for another two hours beyond that.

The reason, of course, is that fans who have memorized the books will riot if anything is omitted from them. So even though it is unwise, from a storytelling standpoint, to include the unnecessary and lengthy flying-car sequence — not to mention the bit where Harry upsets his aunt and uncle yet again, and the traveling-by-flue-powder, and so on — well, here they are anyway.

The film’s real story, once we get to it, has to do with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) hearing mysterious voices, and a series of students being petrified by some unseen menace. It falls on Harry, flanked by pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), to solve the mystery and save Hogwarts, while staying clear of archenemy Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his cold-hearted father (Jason Isaacs).

The acting is improved this time around, particularly among the three young leads. Their chemistry together as friends is more evident, and as the story starts to hint at deeper themes of destiny and loyalty, the kids’ acting moves with it.

It is a pleasure to see the recently departed Richard Harris once again as headmaster Dumbledore, along with Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane as McGonagall, Snape and Hagrid, respectively — though it’s unfortunate their roles couldn’t all be larger.

Kenneth Branagh is a fantastic addition as the smarmy Gilderoy Lockhart, the dashing figure called in as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor.

Dobby the house elf (voiced by Toby Jones) is a computer-animated figure who warns Harry of danger and frequently hurts himself as punishment for being a bad house elf. I never believed he and Harry were actually in the same room together. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” came out 14 years ago, but its humans and cartoons interacted a lot more believably than they do here.

As a whole, the film is too slow-paced to stand up on its own merits. Several mini-adventures, like Harry and Ron being chased by a swarm of huge spiders, seem like sidetracks rather than parts of a greater adventure. Where “Chamber of Secrets” will be viewed a success is in accurately, and occasionally imaginatively, bringing the book to life. As a movie, judged on its own merits, it’s too long, too slow and too unfocused.

B- (2 hrs., 41 min.; PG, scariness, some mild violence, some swearing uses of the word.)