Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is more enjoyable and better made than its predecessor. Paced well and effectively balancing thrills and laughs, Chamber feels much shorter than its intimidating 161 minute running time. The plot is occasionally fuzzy -- reasons are left unclear as to why the bad guys have to go through the complicated plan that they do, but complaining about that is the equivalent of quibbling with a Bond villain. Hogwarts looks more like a real place and less like a movie set this time around. The characters and sets have a familiarity that helps make this film feel more natural than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The actors acquit themselves well, although only Kenneth Branagh as the vain, egotistical Gilderoy Lockhart truly shines. Branagh is obviously spoofing himself, and his joy is infectious. Although the film delivers the goods, disappointing neither fans of the books nor admirers of the first film, there is a certain restrictive feeling about the film that is hard to place. That Chris Columbus so closely follows the books seems to be a big reason why the series has succeeded (financially) as much as it has. However, there is an inevitability that disappoints ever so slightly. One has difficulty sensing much individuality in the film. Chamber of Secrets feels like a mission accomplished more than an inspired piece of storytelling, but it is a worthy mission and it is accomplished with skill.