Ben Hibburd’s review published on Letterboxd:
Harry Potter is a total Mary Sue in his debut film. As a baby he manages to defeat the most powerful wizard without doing anything. He can talk to snakes with no training. He can fly and play the toughest skill position in Quidditch. He has shit tons of money. Breaks multiple school rules without consequence and receives preferential treatment from the headmaster who match fixes the House cup in his favour.
All joking aside I hadn't watched this film in over a decade until last night. My original rating was 2.5/5 and I have no idea why I didn't like it the first time around? Maybe I was too young and “hip” to enjoy it. I was a massive “Lord of the Rings” fan growing up and I probably dismissed this series as being a lesser story. However, coming back to the series after such a long time and more versed in the genre I thought that it was a delightful fantasy film that still largely holds up.
To get the biggest negative out of the way, yes, the acting from the kids in this film can be wince-inducingly bad, thankfully everyone gets better as the series progresses but man, some of those early character interactions rough. Other than that there’s not much to complain about other than minute nit-picks, and a couple of dodgy (or should I say doggy) CGI moments.
What the two Chris Columbus directed films manage to do better than all the other films is to capture that pure, innocent joy and wonder. Yes, the two films have darker moments but over-all this and “Chamber of Secrets” capture the fun that comes with magic. It’s not ashamed to revel in its own silliness, something that the later films try to steer away from. This (and Chamber) both have vibrant personalities. Everyone is having fun and by extension so is the audience.
The film also manages to set up its world and lore without getting too bogged down in complicated exposition that other fantasies fall short with. The plot takes a backseat for the majority of the film in order to set the foundation that later entries will extrapolate upon. Yet, the film manages to balance the overarching plot with enough intrigue to keep me invested despite having already seen it before.
"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is an excellent entry point into the fantasy genre and despite some iffy performances the characters and world building more than make up for any shortcomings.