I was in the minority of people who didn't like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. To me, it was an utterly mediocre take on a book that, admittedly, had never caught my imagination as a child. (Needed more Storm Troopers, I guess.) Going in, I didn't have high expectations for the sequel, Prince Caspian, but I did hope that the series might pull a Harry Potter and improve as it went along. Instead, it pulls a Matrix, going right off the rails in only its second installment. This sorry sequel is so boring, so unimaginative, and so blandly by-the-numbers that it's almost like the film is saying "screw you" to the very audience members who made the original a worldwide hit.
The story picks up not long after the original ended, and we are again introduced to the Pevensie children: Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and little Lucy (Georgie Henley). They are summoned back to Narnia by a magical horn, which has been blown by Prince Caspian (played by Ben Barnes, who makes the least charismatic screen royalty in decades). It's now over 1,000 years later in Narnia time, and the kingdom has been taken over by a group known as the Telmarines, led by the evil King Miraz (Sergio Castelitto). Caspian is the rightful heir to the throne, but Miraz has cast him out in order to continue pursuing his tyrannical ways.
It is up to the Pevensie kids to help Caspian defeat the heinous Miraz and protect Narnia from complete extinction. This involves rounding up the Narnian citizens, who are essentially in hiding. Helping to do this are two dwarves, Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) and Nikabrik (Warwick Davis). However, in order to truly succeed, the group must find the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), who led them successfully in battle against the White Witch in the original. Lucy's the only one who can see him, though, and even she isn't sure his presence is real. (It helps to remember that many have interpreted the character as a Christ figure.)
That's kind of a thin story considering that Prince Caspian runs nearly two-and-a-half hours. The film pumps up the running time with epic battle scenes that, if memory serves, were not really this crucial in C.S. Lewis' novels. One of my big gripes with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was that it eventually devolved into a pint-sized Lord of the Rings with its climactic battle sequence. This sequel devolves into a pint-sized version of 300 for its finale, although it's essentially a pint-sized Braveheart for the rest of its running time. Minus the quality, of course.
The movie's incessant focus on battle and action sequences seems fundamentally at odds with Lewis' intentions. The author once described the theme of his story as "restoration of true religion after corruption." There are a few passing moments in which the Pevensie children struggle with their faith in Aslan, yet there is not nearly the depth of exploration there could be considering Lewis' interesting theology.
In the first Narnia, the children were normal kids experiencing a sense of wonder at the magical land they discovered. In Prince Caspian, they are all action heroes. There is no room for their individual personalities here, so on a character level, the film is a complete failure. Any sense of fondness you may have generated for the Pevensie children is gone because they are too busy fighting battles to show any sense of humanity. That's a real shame because the best thing about the original was the quality of the performances from the young actors. This time, they're little more than scenery.
Making matters worse is that the battle scenes that constitute much of the picture's running time are not even remotely exciting. Director Andrew Adamson displays no filmmaking style at all. He is incapable of creating suspense or excitement. Special effects flood the screen, to be sure, but not a single one of the action scenes made my pulse quicken or my attention rise. In fact, they feel like cut-and-paste jobs from other, better movies. Adamson finds zero that is new to give us. For that reason, the battle sequences are actually even less interesting than anything else.
There are a ton of other problems that I don't have much time to go into. Unlike the White Witch, the villain here is uninteresting and pedestrian. The dialogue is painfully flat. The special effects are generic (I am so over talking critters). A lot of the acting is just plain bad, especially Ben Barnes as the titular royalty.
Because Prince Caspian focuses on all the wrong things, and because it's so leaden in its approach, I found watching the film to be an excruciating experience. I was bored out of my mind. Absolutely nothing on screen held my interest. You know those movies that are so dull, you end up looking at your watch more than looking at the screen? Well, I had to force myself not to look at my watch because I knew only five minutes had passed between impulses. I honestly can't imagine how the children to whom this movie is pitched will avoid being just as bored as I was. Parents who take their kids to Prince Caspian should be prepared to get up for a lot of bathroom runs and concession stand visits.
( out of four)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is rated R for epic battle action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 19 minutes.
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