A too-bland-for-comfort sequel to 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is the second in a proposed seven-picture series from Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media (each one based on the classic children's books by C.S. Lewis). If the studio hopes to earn enough profits to see this franchise complete, they'd better bring more verve and vigor to the impending installments than they do to this distaff entry. In depicting the further adventures of four siblings in WWII-era England who are whisked off to the fantastical land of Narnia, what once felt both magical and foreboding now seems rather dreary and perfunctory.
It has been exactly one year since Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter Pevensie (William Moseley) returned from their visit to Narnia, where they helped to defeat the White Witch's icy rule over the land and were subsequently anointed as honorary kings and queens. While awaiting the train that is to take them back to school, the platform they are on suddenly transports them back to Narnia. Something is amiss, though, and it doesn't take the four kids long to discover that 1,300 years have passed and the crumbling artifacts surrounding them are but a forlorn trace of what once was.
Enter Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), whose treacherous uncle, King Miraz (Sergio Castellito), now wants him dead so that his own newborn son can be heir to the throne. Narrowly escaping with his life and having blown the horn that has summoned the Pevensies back to Narnia, Caspian soon teams up with Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter. Together they prepare to overthrow King Miraz and once again bring peace to the men and creatures who have been marginalized by his reign.
"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" brings back much of the same cast and crew of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
," including writer-director Andrew Adamson (2004's "Shrek 2
"), co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, luminous music composer Harry Gregson-Williams (2007's "Gone Baby Gone
"), and actors Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell as the brave young Pevensie siblings. The film itself, however, more often than not is but a pale version of the previous film. The first half is slow and meandering, with the Pevensies awkwardly wandering around with little of note to say or do and the scenes involving standard-issue villain King Miraz downright dull. The storyline lacks inspiration because the most pivotal character, Prince Caspian, is played by Ben Barnes (2007's "Stardust
"), who has so little charisma that a piece of driftwood might as well have been cast in the role. Director Andrew Adamson never gives the viewer a reason to care about him or his fate. The visuals, too, are nothing compared to the snowscapes of its predecessor; the sets now resemble something out of "The Lord of the Rings
There are a few isolated moments of effectiveness in the opening hour, such as a scene where the Pevensies find old wall markings of themselves and friends, like faun Mr. Tumnus, who have since passed on. Things do not really pick up until a well-paced set-piece where the Narnians ambush King Miraz's fortress by foot, horse and air. With this sequence, the film builds upon the grandeur it should have had all along, and leads toward a dazzling climax. Showcasing a taut sword fight between Peter and King Miraz that culminates in some surprising developments, followed by multiple grand-scale battles involving warrior trees, a water-made savior, and the appearance of Messiah-like lion Aslan, the third act almost wins enough points to make the lugubrious material that came before it palatable. The final wrap-up scenes are also nicely done as they hint at things to come in the third film, but it's all just a tad too late to forgive the picture's missteps.
Once the lead character, mischief-eyed little Lucy Pevensie has now been downgraded to a virtual side player who sits out on all of the action scenes and battles while her older brothers and sister fight alongside the Narnians. That's a shame, because Georgie Henley showed great promise in the part in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
," and it would have been nice to see her come into own here since she's a few years older. Lucy and the rest of the PevensiesSkandar Keynes as rebellious Edmund, William Moseley as leader Peter, and Anna Popplewell as the sensible Susando not have the same deeply-felt bond here, and mostly just shout out timeworn cries while raising swords and arrows. There are only so many times they can yell out, "For Narnia!" or "For Aslan!" and still keep it sounding fresh. The actors look bored, and this goes double for Peter Dinklage (2007's "Underdog
"), who, as tough but tender-hearted dwarf Trumpkin, looks like he'd rather be anywhere but in front of the camera.
There is a scene in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" where the spirit of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) is summoned in a block of ice and tries to break free. It is chilling in its suggestion of what might have been, if only because the film is in such dire need of a threatening and memorable villain to spruce things up. King Miraz ultimately doesn't cut it, and neither does a screenplay that tries and fails to give the story and characters energy and life. As is, "Prince Caspian" only intermittently entertains. The rest of the time it just leaves the viewer cold.