The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

When last we left the Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), they had entered Narnia, defeated the White Witch, allying with the Christ-like lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) and taken their places as the Kings and Queens of Narnia, ruling over a long stretch of peace in their fairy-tale kingdom before returning to their everyday lives right where they had left off.

When we meet them for the first time in this more than worthy--in fact, superior--sequel, Peter, unused to his rough treatment as a kid in WWII London, is engaged in a violent fistfight in the tube station. Edmund jumps in to lend a hand, and after extricating themselves the children settle down to wait for their train when all of a sudden the very fabric of reality around them quakes with tension and peels back to reveal, once again, the magical land of Narnia. But something is different. As they wander around on the beach and among the ruins where they have been deposited, they begin to realize that a very long time has passed for Narnia while they were at their studies in England.

The Narnia books, by Christian writer and popular theologian C.S. Lewis, are not easy to adapt for film. Dense, complex, full of mythical beasts and magical characters, the effects alone are daunting. And the first film, 2005's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while charming and a huge worldwide hit, did not quite live up to what might have been reasonably expected. The first film seemed stunted, presented as not quite as grand and mysterious as the subject matter, and many of the effects, most notably the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and Mr. Tumnus, the faun, were amateurish and off-base to the point of taking one out of the story.

Still, overall, the film was a good introduction to Narnia on film, if not great. The new film has no such drawbacks. The filmmakers, most of whom are back from the first film, seem to have learned much from their experiences, and deliver a fully magical and fulfilling sequel. The convincingly portrayed Badger and Reepicheep, the valiant mouse-warrior, by themselves more than make up for the less satisfying effects in the first film.

In this adventure, the children are summoned back by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the heir to the Telmarine throne of Narnia. The Telmarines are warlike humans who have taken over the kingdom and largely banished the magical Narnians to the wilderness. When Caspian's uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), has a son, Caspian's life is threatened to make way for his royal succession. Caspian escapes to the wilderness and allies with the exiled Narnians, using Queen Susan's magical horn, in his world an ancient relic, to summon the Pevensies back to fight with him to restore the ancient kingdom and free the gryphons, dwarves, dryads, minotaurs, centaurs and other denizens of Narnia from the grip of an exterminating power, with Aslan's help.

It is very satisfying to see the children take to their old roles as warriors with grit and determination, though a bit of the wonder of discovering Narnia for the first time is gone from this outing. Still, Prince Caspian is a war film, and as such demands the children act as warriors from the start.

The assault on the Telmarine castle is one of the most satisfying raids in movie history, with an intricate plot, a plethora of magical beasts contributing their unique abilities, and a somber, bittersweet ending. All of the battle scenes deploy the fantasy creatures in such satisfying ways that any faults of the first film are more than redeemed.

The White Witch, Jadis (Tilda Swinton), even puts in another appearance as the forces of evil lure the divided Narnians to look to the dark side for help as their situation seems to become hopeless. This brush with evil is marvelously dark, cold, weird, beautiful and tempting.

Less faithful to the details of the book than even the first film, in Prince Caspian director Andrew Adamson delivers an ultimately spry, nimble and humorous film even more faithful to the Narnia series in spirit. If you liked the first film even a little, you are likely to enjoy this one about one hundred times as much.

5-22-08


Links for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Followed by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

Official Site

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