''You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.'' Truer words were never spoken by a dwarf in Narnia.
It's time to go back to Narnia, but kids who were thrilled by the first movie might not be ready for the way this installment has matured. Director Andrew Adamson created a film that's darker, more brutal, more death-ridden -- and much better.
The Pevensie kids -- Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) -- have aged a year since they returned from Narnia, when they reverted back to their childhood ages after growing to adulthood in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Just when they think they're never going to see Narnia again, they're transported back to the magical land they all love. And of course they love it there -- they're kings and queens in Narnia!
Do I look like an animal? Barnes
But the Narnia they return to is not the land of their fond memories. More than 1,300 years have passed and a new race, the Telmarines, have taken control and repressed the Narnians. All the things that make Narnia wonderful -- the talking animals, the dancing trees -- are seemingly gone. Once again the kids have to live up to a prophecy that they will save the day.
The children are summoned by the rightful heir to Narnia, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), whose uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), murdered his father and now wants to kill Caspian. Compared to Castellitto as Miraz, Tilda Swinton's White Witch from the first installment looks like a ray of sunshine. From the start, a plot focused on monarchy bloodlines and regicide might be over the heads of -- or too much for -- kids, but the visual effects are enough to keep them entertained. The first half of the film is pure fun as the Pevensie children figure out what they must do; the moment they meet Caspian is goose bump inducing. Then the blood starts to spill and the latter half is filled with battles and death.
It's impossible to say that any of the child actors in the film are fantastic -- but neither were any of the Harry Potter actors at first, either. Hopefully they'll continue to grow and mature as well. As Edmund, it's Keynes who demonstrates the most maturity as an actor. He's the only one you believe might have once been an adult who is now trapped in a child's body. The others never portray a level of gravitas that gels with the ending of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Speaking of maturing, the CGI animals are looking a little better than in the first film, with some fun additions including a badger and a swashbuckling mouse. Those who think the mouse bears a striking resemblance to Puss in Boots from the Shrek films will not be surprised to learn that director Adamson also directed Shrek 2.
As for other human actors in the movie, Barnes can best be described as mediocre in the titular role. Hopefully Caspian is a more remarkable leader than Barnes is an actor. Barnes doesn't detract from the film in any measurable way, but he's certainly not regal.
Peter Dinklage, hidden under mounds of makeup as a dwarf, is great. He does well as both comic relief and a needed reminder of the horrible state of affairs for Narnians. Swinton makes a brief, brief cameo, but it's so quick that it's more a tease than a truly satisfying appearance.
It's hard not to compare any movie battle scene featuring strange creatures fighting alongside humans with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While director Adamson has created bigger and bloodier battles for this film, their quality is relative. Compared to LOTR, they're mediocre; compared to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they're fun, fantastic and thrilling.
There are a couple missteps that will provide water-cooler bitching, including a bear who equals Star Wars' Jar-Jar Binks in terms of annoyance. The bear only takes up about 30 seconds of film time, but it's still enough to talk about afterward. Some cheesy lines during the final battle scene might have been included in the hopes of relieving some of the tension, but should also had landed on the cutting room floor next to Mr. Bear.
C.S. Lewis' religious undertones to his Narnia series are present and accounted for. Aslan the lion, the embodiment of faith, plays his regal role again with yet another moral attached to his presence. Prince Caspian is about faith and responsibility, but even more so it's an entertaining film.
Andrew Adamson has defied conventional wisdom by creating a sequel that outshines the original. He upped the ante and didn't disappoint. The third movie - Voyage of the Dawn Treader - is in pre-production and, if the trend continues, it's well worth being excited for. In the meantime, don't miss out on Prince Caspian.