The most obvious comment that could be made about "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is that it is "Lord of the Rings" Lite. This is a statement that can be simultaneously true and inaccurate, but the comparisons are inevitable, much more in this film than was seen in the first adaptation of C.S. Lewis' classic children's tale, "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe".
Like the second of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, "The Two Towers", "Prince Caspain" throws the viewer immediately into the mythology of Narnia. If you didn't watch the first film, go back and rent it before viewing this one, because you'll be completely lost without it.
Although it's been over two years since the first film of the Pevensie children and their initial meeting with the Jesus-like lion named Aslan, only a year has passed in their timeline, and they are quite depressed having to live their lives as school children in WWII England, knowing that they were kings and queens in Narnia. Unbeknownst to them, over a thousand years have passed in Narnia, and humans, who once only existed in that realm in the form of the Pevensies, now have their own kingdom carved out in that land.
In that kingdom, an evil despot named Miraz now rules. Miraz was the brother of the former king, the benevolent Caspian IX. Once Miraz's wife gives birth to a son, he attempts to kill the rightful heir, his nephew Prince Caspian. The prince is alerted of the impending execution by his tutor, and he flees into the woods, where he learns that the supposed mythical creatures of Narnia; talking animals, dwarves, centaurs, minotaurs, and the like, are still living amongst the ruins of the once great civilization.
In Caspian's desperation, he blows a magical horn that once belong to Susan Pevensie, which transports the four siblings back to Narnia. Confused on the changes they see, they are eventually united with Caspian, and they work with him (and sometimes in spite of him) to defend the creatures of Narnia from the forces of the evil humans.
Of the plot, it is really best for me not to reveal much more. As can be guessed, however, there are battles, betrayals, unlikely friendships, and last minute heroics.
The biggest shift in this film from the first reminds me much more of the Harry Potter series than from the Tolkien books. While all of the "Chronicles of Narnia" books were written for children, this one (or at least the film version) becomes much darker, deeper, and more intense. While you do no see spraying blood in the big battles, there are numerous deaths shown quite starkly. In going back to the LOTR comparisons, the two eldest children, Peter and Susan, end up on the battlefield emulating Aragorn and Legolas, respectively, with their mastery of the sword and the bow.
As impressive as the special effects and cinematography were, it was the acting of the leading players that stands out the most. William Moseley does an excellent job in conveying the frustration and doubt of "High King Peter", as he deals with the natural rivalry with Caspian, and his despair in not having Aslan available to help him. Anna Popplewell portrays Susan as a Narnian version of the Greek goddess Athena; both nurturing and deadly, once again being counted on to hold the family together. For the younger siblings, Skandar Keynes is much more mature and trustworthy as Edmund, while youngest sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) is still the most sensitive, and the one who still truly believes in the powers of Aslan (once again voiced by Liam Neeson).
But it is Ben Barnes as the title character Prince Caspian who will be the breakout star of this film. The handsome 26 year old shows incredible range and versatility. In fact, after commenting to my wife that I foresee him as a young Antonio Banderas, I was surprised to learn from IMDB that he is not Spanish at all, but English...so he gets some major kudos for handling the accent so well.
I'm still not sure why the filmmakers decided to make all of the humans Spanish, then. It could be to set up the natural rivalry between Spain and England...but more than likely it was just because it looked cool to put all the members of the human army into Conquistador costumes.
Earlier in the review, I was mentioning the comparisons to Tolkien, something that is quite natural as Lewis and Tolkien were not just colleagues on the faculty at Oxford University, but were also close friends. Both literary giants had deep religious convictions, and both were profoundly affected by both World Wars. Lewis and Tolkien served in WWI, and both were professors at Oxford during WWII.
Both men based their imaginary worlds on combinations of Britain and mythology, but Tolkien's Middle Earth was somewhat based upon Scandinavian folklores; whereas Lewis's Narnia has many features taken from Greek and Roman mythology.
Religion is also present in both writings, but here again, the two men handle it in much different manners. "The Lord of the Rings" has spirituality as an undercurrent to his works. Good battles Evil, and there are some instances of what could be described as "divine intervention" in his works, but it is never blatant. Lewis, on the other hand, clearly writes his Narnia books as a Christian allegory, and makes no effort to conceal that fact.
However, that is not to say that the Christian references are so prevalent as to come across as preachy. The movie is not about dogma, it is about adventure, family, and like Tolkien, it is ultimately about the most age-old plot: Good Vs. Evil. And in that regard, the movie succeeds completely. In most aspects, it is a better movie than the first. And while the "Narnia" series may not be as good as LOTR or Harry Potter, it is still excellent entertainment, and something the entire family can enjoy.
My Rating: Frank Ryan (3 footballs)
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