"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" takes place one year after the events in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," the initial film in the series derived from the C.S. Lewis religio-fantasy series. In Narnian years, however, that one year represents about 1,300. Fortunately, watching this movie doesn't feel quite that long.
Once more we are unceremoniously plopped into the world of the Pevensie siblings: big brother Peter (William Moseley) and little brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes), big sister Susan (Anna Popplewell), and little Lucy (Georgie Henley). They find themselves transported, via a World War II-era Tube station in Trafalgar Square, to Narnia, where last time out they dispatched the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) and were elevated to royalty. (The White One makes a brief cameo here, but she is sorely missed.)
The moral of this new movie seems to be: You can't go home again – especially if you arrive 1,300 years later. The new Narnia is a pale reflection of the old. The talking beasties and mythological creatures live precariously on the margins of the kingdom now ruled by the Telmarines, a race of entirely dark-haired humans (no blondes need apply).
The Pevensie clan has been summoned to Narnia by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who fled the castle when it became clear his uncle, Lord Miraz (Sergio Castellito), was out to off him. Miraz looks as if he'd be equally at home starring in "300."
And where, you may ask, is the mighty lion Aslan? He hasn't been seen in a millennium, at least not until Lucy claps eyes on him in the forest. For my money, there is entirely too little of Aslan in "Prince Caspian," although, as voiced by Liam Neeson, he still sounds too high-mindedly dull. The point is, Aslan looks great, and in the new Narnia, looks count for a lot.
Speaking of which, the actors playing the Pevensie children have grown up in the three years since the first film, and this makes for a better drama. For one thing, they're better actors now, able to register a wider range of emotions. There are also some welcome new additions, including surly dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) – where would the mythological fantasy genre be without surly dwarfs? – and a talking mouse named Reepicheep (hilariously voiced by Eddie Izzard).
The first "Narnia" movie was much discussed in terms of C.S. Lewis's Christian symbolism, but the new film is unlikely to provoke such discussion. Much more so than its predecessor, "Prince Caspian" is an action film – too much of an action film. As the battles pile up, the lyrical atmosphere wafts away and what we get is a more standard recipe. Director Andrew Adamson, who also made the first film, was director of the two "Shrek" films, and he still seems not altogether at home with live action. He can't quite work up a magical atmosphere – especially when the film is constantly being grounded by such leaden lines as "The throne is rightfully mine."
Still, this is a bigger and darker "Narnia" movie and although it didn't leave me famished for the inevitable sequel, it delivers the family-entertainment goods. Memo to the producers: Next time out, more dwarfs, more Aslan, and definitely more Reepicheep. Grade: B. (Rated PG for epic battle action and violence.)