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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / *** (PG)Posted Tuesday, May 20, 2008, at 9:53 PM
Ben Barnes joins William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley as the titular character in the cast of the second in the Narnia film series "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian".
Writing about "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"--the first live action film installment of C.S. Lewis's popular fantasy series "The Chronicles of Narnia"--I commented on how the movie seemed to raise the children's fantasy to a higher level of maturity than the source material would lead you to expect. With Disney's second film in the series, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian", yet another leap in maturity seems to have been made. "Prince Caspian" tells a more intimate tale than the first, yet still uses the same level of fantasy and action to more satisfying effect.
Taking place 1300 years after the events of "Wardrobe", the kingdom of Narnia has long since fallen to the Telmarine Empire in the absence of its rulers, the Pevensie siblings. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, "Stardust") is the tenth in his family line, but his uncle Miraz (Sergio Castillitto, "Arthur and the Invisibles") has ruled in the interim since Caspian IX's death. When his own son is born, King Miraz orders his general to murder Caspian X and ensure his own family's legacy. Caspian escapes Miraz's soldiers in the forest of Narnia where he meets some of the thought-to-be-extinct Narnians and uses Queen Susan's magical horn to call upon the kings and queens of the past to save Narnia.
While more than a century has passed in Narnia, it's been only one year since the Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), returned to London from their Narnian adventure. They have had trouble readjusting to their London existence since they spent an entire lifetime ruling Narnia and have returned to life as children suffering through World War II bombings. One day in the Underground subway system, the walls peel away for the Pevensie children and they find themselves once again in the land they missed so much.
Meanwhile, Caspian has discovered a world most Telmarines thought to be a myth. The Narnians have survived in hiding, but Miraz's desire to ensure Caspian's death and ascend to the throne has exposed the woodland creatures of Narnia as myth no longer. Caspian falls under the care of an apprehensive dwarf named Nikabrik (Warwick Davis, "Willow"), a talking badger named Trufflehunter (voiced by Ken Stott, "Charlie Wilson's War"), and an auspicious mouse warrior named Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend"). The Narnians eventually decide that Caspian is their new savior and agree to follow him in an attempt to regain their kingdom. After the Pevensie children rescue a loyal dwarf warrior, Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage, "Death at a Funeral"), from Miraz's men, they team up with Caspian and the Narnians to rise up against Miraz and his vast army.
The battle sequences seem much more organic this time around than the big climax did in the first film. The final battle in "Wardrobe" played like a foregone conclusion, a battle like so many we had seen before in films like "Braveheart" or "Lord of the Rings". The two major battle sequences in "Caspian" are less predictable. The first is a siege on King Miraz's castle, which doesn't even exist in the book. It seems hasty and ill advised on the part of our heroes, and so it carries the tension of the unknown with it. The final battle is preceded by a stunning one-on-one sword fight between Peter and King Miraz. Director Andrew Adamson ("Shrek") does a wonderful job keeping their confrontation tense by using the heavy nature of the armor and swords as a distraction for the combatants. These weapons and defenses were not designed for hand-to-hand combat.
The tension felt between Caspian and Peter adds another element to Peter and Miraz's face-off. This is Caspian's fight, but the Pevensie children--once as inexperienced as Caspian--are now the practiced veterans. But this is not the Narnia that they once ruled and conventions have changed to some degree. Caspian knows the Telmarines and how they work, but he must fight against his own youth and inexperience to find the hero within. The Pevensie children, Peter especially, must fight against their own urges toward leadership and let Caspian find his own way.
Plus, many of Peter's bold decisions backfire against the Narnians. The great lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson, "Batman Begins") hasn't been seen in Narnia since the time the Pevensies ruled. Much of their success as Narnia's champions was due to Aslan's guidance. But the lion seems to have abandoned them as much as he has Narnia. Only the youngest, Lucy, seems to have any enlightenment from Aslan, who appears to her in dreams. At one point, he offers Lucy a warning that "nothing happens the same way twice." This is true in many different ways in this movie.
"Prince Caspian" embraces all the fantasy elements audiences have come to crave from films like "The Lord of the Rings" and the previous Narnia installment. There is little here to disappoint. But it also follows its own philosophy; nothing here happens the same way it did in the previous film. More than just a "Chronicles of Narnia" version 2.0, it is a whole new experience that improves upon its predecessor and makes you wonder, just what else does this world of Narnia have to show us?
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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