The first Chronicles of Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the C.S. Lewis novel, didn’t impress me much.
A decent enough, if insipid, distraction, it was pretty lightweight as fantasy fare goes and didn’t deliver on its promise of epic scale. A bizarre and cringe-worthy guest-appearance by Santa Clause didn’t really help matters much.
Prince Caspian is a pleasant improvement on the previous outing thanks to a grander canvas, better effects and a generally darker and more distinctly grown up-tone.
The story begins a year after the events of the first film: We find the Pevensie siblings in the real world, living not as kings and queens but as schoolchildren in World War II London. They are, however, soon magically returned to the land of Narnia where their help is much needed.
Unfortunately while a year has passed in our world, thirteen centuries have taken their toll on this mystical land. A race of Mediterranean-styled humans, known as the Telmarines, have invaded the kingdom and killed or driven out the Narnian creatures.
Along with the exiled Prince Caspian, who aims to claim the Telmarine throne, the Pevensie children must battle the evil Telmarine king and bring harmony to Narnia.
Thankfully, our child-heroes are slightly less annoying than before: William Moseley (Peter Pevensie) is growing into his poncy good looks; Georgie Henley (Lucy) remains cute as a button; Skandar Keynes (Edmund Pevensie) gets to hone his sword fighting; and Anna Popplewell (Susan Pevensie) starts to notice the boys – especially the titular Caspian.
Ben Barnes’ Prince Caspian is appropriately regal and brings a little necessary testosterone to the motley crew of heroes. He’s an absurdly perfect incarnation of a fairytale prince thanks to his good looks and noble earnestness.
The much-discussed and controversial Christian allegories in the storyline are relatively inoffensive within the context of a fantasy world. The lion Aslan, a Christ-like figure in the novels, (again voiced by Liam Neeson) turns up to save the day; all to affirm the notion that blind and unquestioning childlike faith is a positive and desirable quality. You make of it what you will.
Tilda Swinton (as the White Witch), undoubtedly the best part of the first film, makes an all too brief token appearance which doesn’t have much impact on the story. Other minor magical characters, such as Eddie Izzard’s ‘swordsmouse,’ Reepicheep, and Ken Stott’s badger, Trufflehunter, serve to add some genuine and effective humour to the proceedings.
Prince Caspian ups the ante when it comes to action, what with a moonlight attack on a castle, a one-on-one sword duel and an epic battlefield featuring two armies, walking trees (a little Lords of The Rings) and even a giant Neptune-like water creature.
It’s all beautifully staged and the special effects are rather impressive. The men-in-rubber-monster-masks syndrome, so evident in some scenes of the first film, is happily absent. I was especially awed by the centaurs; the integration of human actors with their half CGI animal bodies is seamless and utterly believable.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian suffers from a case of chronic blandness, but remains generally entertaining. If you enjoyed the first outing, you’ll probably delight in this sequel. Don’t expect too much (an all too common requirement these days) and you’ll have an enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, adventure in the land of Narnia.