Not Quite a King
Three years ago, I had an unexpected surprise in viewing the first film of Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia series, based on the C.S. Lewis books. I didn't expect anything above decent, but what I got was spectacular. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe became my favorite film of 2005. Now comes the next tale, Prince Caspian, which reunites almost all the same talent to continue the saga. While equally impressive in scope, this sequel suffers from a weaker story and underwhelming villain.
One year has passed since the Pevensie children unexpectedly left their beloved world of Narnia. Summoned back for unkown reasons, they discover their former home now an ancient ruin. 1300 Narnian years have passed in their absence and an evil king now reins. The true heir to the throne, noble Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), has fled to avoid being murdered at the hands of his wicked uncle. It is the prince who has magically called the Pevensies to save Narnia and return it to it's rightful citizens. With the odds against them, they must form an alliance and find the only one who can save them all: Aslan.
The look of this film is simply breathtaking. Returning director Andrew Adamson and his new cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub (Georgia Rule) have crafted a vivid canvas full of epic scope and lush detail. When the kids first return, they arrive on sparkling beach with water that looks so inviting you can almost smell the salt water. The forest is rich and very green, and the fields of battle are majestic and deep as far as the camera can see. It's all very impressive.
The CGI work is again excellent. With many a mystical creature filling this universe, they all appear realistic. From warrior centaurs to flying gryphons, it all comes across well. Aslan again projects himself as the regal Lion, the spiritual leader who we really believe is there (Liam Neeson's voice work doesn't hurt, either). There is a spectacular dream sequence where Lucy envisions flower petals carried upon the wind that form human shapes and faces. Beautiful.
All of the actors playing the Pevensie kids return, with only young Lucy (Georgie Henley) showing signs of growing up. I love these characters, and they have such good chemistry together that I could watch them for hours on end. Henley still steals every scene she's in, but I also liked the fact that older sibling Susan (Anna Popplewell) has feelings for the Prince and is no longer a kid, but a budding young woman. Another character I really enjoyed was the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), who's sarcasm is much larger than his tiny body should allow.
So why the so-so rating? As much as I found to like about Prince Caspian, I had almost as many dislikes, which I am disappointed to report. A large part of this is the story--it's just not that interesting. While Lion had a great slow-brewing plot that culminated with an exciting battle sequence, Caspian seems to just be about the battles themselves. There are more of them, but they are without tension or drama. I was bored during most of these segments (with the exception of Susan using her bow to great effect), which became bigger as the movie went along, but never seemed to get better or more engaging.
Another gaffe is the bland villain. King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) is not very menacing, and never generated any worry inside of me for our heroes' fate. Add to that the very lucid memory of Tilda Swinton's wonderfully evil White Witch from the first film (she makes a cameo this time), and the letdown continues. In any kind of thriller you simply must have a great baddie to initiate jeopardy, but the limp one we get here doesn't do the job.
I really wanted to like Prince Caspian. I love those kids, and the world Adamson and company have created is a vision to behold. It may be unfair to compare it to the far superior first film, but even on its own merits, this movie comes up short. And I haven't even brought up the sword-wielding mice...