Rating: 2.5 stars
Sadly for me, all the things I liked best about the original Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe—Tilda Swinton’s icily mesmerizing White Witch; James McAvoy’s puckish Mr. Tumnus; the refreshingly realistic sibling rivalry among the Pevensie children; the talking beavers; those crazy-delicious cupcakes (just checking to see if you were paying attention)—are mostly gone in the sequel. Instead, we get more CGI! More battles! More epic grandeur! In this case, more is less—at least for me. I missed the charm and intimacy of the first work. Some, I suppose, will prefer this version, which plays a bit like Lord of the Rings for tweens.
The tween dream factor is certainly provided by our titular hero. British newcomer Ben Barnes looks so much like a young Keanu Reeves, I half-expected him to mutter, “Whoah. Narnia is totally righteous, dude,” but makes an able bodied (and totally hot) Caspian.
As the film starts, the Pevensie children are back in war-torn England. I’m not sure how much “real world” time is supposed to have elapsed since the last novel—if you recall, the children grew up as royalty in the magical land of Narnia before being deposited back home intact as children—but the young actors have all aged in rather unpredictable ways (as young people tend to inconveniently do).
Skandar Keynes (Edmund) seems to have sprouted about a foot since the last film and has become rather square-jawed, making it difficult to accept him as the dutiful kid brother to the fair Peter (William Moseley), who still looks like a choir boy. Meanwhile, Anna Popplewell (Susan) is turning into a lovely leading lady; while the clock is ticking on cutie-patootie Georgie Henley (Lucie), who has grown quite a bit, but still manages to be cheek-pinchingly adorable.
This time there’s no wardrobe to get lost in; instead the siblings are transported to Narnia through a magical subway station (JK Rowling, eat your heart out). When the Pevensie’s return to Narnia, over a thousand years has elapsed—and everything looks different. Their old castle is in ruins, the trees no longer dance, the few talking animals and centaurs and dwarves have gone underground, and, of course, their leader Aslan the Lion is nowhere to be found.
The siblings have been summoned by Prince Caspian, who is escaping his evil uncle King Miraz, and has promised to fight for the Narnians, long oppressed by his uncle’s kingdom.
And so it goes: The Pevensie’s are immediately accepted as royalty and saviors—leading once again to the uncomfortable image (in my mind at least) of thousands of Narnians bowing down to four well-scrubbed white children. There’s a bit of a power struggle between Peter and Prince Caspian—resolved, tidily—and there are battles—many, many battles.
Peter Dinklage provides a welcome bit of diversion as a curmudgeonly (but good-hearted) dwarf and Eddie Izzard is excellent as the voice of a comically valiant mouse.
To be honest, I found the film a bit tedious. No one is going to say that they didn’t get their money’s worth—the CGI is fabulous. But I miss the small grace notes of the first, not to mention its better story. Still, it was good enough to make me at least mildly optimistic about the next chapter, which—perhaps in an attempt to avoid a Prince Caspian with male pattern baldness—is already in production.