If Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a tour of fantasy-land (who else thought their feelings seemed stuffed with baubles like gift-bags from a theme park?), The Chamber of Secrets is like accidentally wandering into the maintenance closet. Something is disenchanted by it, and I can think of no harsher criticism, to call something squinty that once was wide-eyed.
Movies of this kind had a habit of staging an adventure but keeping emotions safe and detached, with characters that went through the bother of dressing in jungle wear but without the bother of acting beyond their British parlors. But here Huston aims at unprecedented realism in confecting a gritty jungle for his two stars to get entangled in, particularly in the unsightly pairing of the two leads themselves, who at first seem no more compatible than they really would be.
The film blasts an affectionate symphony of action spy movie set pieces, which Bird composes with such a self-believing style that he reminds me less of a director than of a virtuoso performer. And even they become a back-drop to what is essentially a mid-life crisis film, about a man who misses himself so much that he doesn’t even notice he has a family. Bird offers a genre fattened on mythic pretension a trimming alternative of joyous energy and dazzling characters.
By remaining outside after dark, Kubo invokes the inevitable quest for three sacred pieces of armor so that he may defeat the Moon King. Kubo weaves its story with the mythologist Joseph Campbell’s pattern, which he called the “monomyth,” by telling a story about a boy and his Mother as though it represented all boys and all Mothers.