Prince Caspian (2008)

It's been a year since the Pevensie kids saved Narnia and discovered that they were kings and queens. England is still at war, but High King Peter (William Moseley), who is just another schoolboy in his unenchanted homeland, has only other schoolboys to fight. Until a portal opens up in the London Underground, that is, and the Pevensies find themselves back in dear old Narnia. Emphasis on the old -- they soon discover that a millennium has passed in Narnia since they've been gone.

Other things have changed too. Humans, known as Telmarines, rule the land, having exterminated all the talking critters, fauns, and centaurs, and stilled the once lively trees with their genocidal ethnic cleansing. The Telmarines are little better to each other. As *The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian* begins, young Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) must flee his homicidal uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), a usurper who has stolen the crown and has plans to pass it on to his own infant son once his inconveniently alive nephew Caspian is out of the way.

Caspian soon has other kings and queens to deal with, when he meets up with Peter and his sibs, King Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Queen Susan (Anna Popplewell), and Queen Lucy (Georgie Henley). The legendary monarchs rouse the Narnian Underground to action with help from a grumpy Narnian named Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), and a swashbuckling mouse, Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard who, as he so often does, simultaneously steals and saves the movie). The Narnians are none too fond of Caspian, seeing as how his people tried to kill them all, and much of the plot of *Prince Caspian* concerns the factional fighting between Caspian, Peter, and the Narnians on one side, and, on the side of evil, King Miraz and his court of double-dealers, double-crossers and backstabbers. Loyalties shift on both sides in the march to war between the true Narnians and the Telmarine invaders, who, having discovered that the Narnians are not extinct, can think of nothing better to do than to exterminate them all over again.

There's a lot of conflict in *Prince Caspian*, between all the in-fighting and backstabbing, and all the swords and catapults and whizzing arrows. This sequel is considerably darker in mood and more violent than the first movie, *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe* (2005), and far less enchanted and enchanting. The ol' magic is pretty much gone from Narnia, and doesn't reappear in the movie until pretty late in the game, when lion king Aslan (Liam Neeson) finally returns. At that point, the sword fights and slayings and massive battles have grown rather tedious, and the story is much in need of the deus ex machina that only Aslan (the Christ figure in the movie's loose theology) can provide.

The emphasis on action and battle scenes in *Prince Caspian* comes at the expense of characterization, although the screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and director Andrew Adamson occasionally sparkles with moments of wit. The diminutive mouseketeer Reepicheep, who finds people rather unimaginative (and easy to fight) is a source of much amusement, as is the diminutive, angry, put-upon Trumpkin, who objects to being patronized by the big people, and especially to being called "dear little friend" by the considerably taller Lucy. Prince Caspian himself is fairly dull, with Barnes doing not much more than perfect his "blue steel" look, and simmer, occasionally in the direction of Queen Susan. Susan has become, it appears, a reluctant hottie both in Narnia and back in dear old England. The Pevensie kids themselves have backseat roles in *Prince Caspian* -- this isn't really their story, and they serve primarily to inspire the Narnians, and to provide several of those four-across (plus one Caspian) walking-towards-the-camera scenes that in movies signify solidarity, readiness, and a host of other notions related to doing what must be done.

While the story this time around is more relentlessly violent, and on a far larger scale, it is oddly less moving than in the previous movie, in which the cruelty and violence, directed at characters and creatures one could actually care about, was far more disturbing. *Prince Caspian* is essentially a medieval war movie, a *Braveheart* for kids, with the brutality, ferocity, trauma, and gore of the battle scenes dialed down accordingly. Scaling back the savagery of the depiction of war is all well and good, and there's nothing wrong with doing that. The problem in *Prince Caspian* is that the sense of peril is also diluted. Not only does nothing bad happen to anyone noteworthy in the film, but there's never any real sense that anything bad *could* happen to them. There's a certain necessity and inevitability to everything that occurs in *Prince Caspian*, but no sense that necessity will lead inevitably to tragedy. With characters that are less than enthralling, faced with threats that are less than compelling, *Prince Caspian* is less than spellbinding.