Summer sequel season is here. With Hulk, Batman, and Indiana Jones installments roaring into theatres over the next couple of months, the Narnia series opted for a head start and given the rousing, rollicking adventure to be had in Prince Caspian, it is likely to prove a wise decision.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Directed by Andrew Adamson.
Director Andrew Adamson returns, along with composer Harry Gregson-Williams and the four child stars of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
This time, the Pevensie children are sucked into Narnia to answer a call for help by Prince Caspian X (Ben Barnes), whose scheming uncle Miraz (played by Jean Reno doppelgänger Sergio Castellitto) wants him out of the way in order to claim the Telmarine throne for himself. The Telmarines are a brutal lot, responsible for the persecution of the Narnians in the thousand years that have elapsed since the Pevensies left Narnia (just a year earlier as time passes in our world). Since Caspian wants to unite the Narnians and the Telmarines in peace, and the newly installed King Miraz is desirous only of conquest, the Narnians rally under Caspian and High King Peter, and so the lines are drawn for war.
Prince Caspian does suffer a slow start with the frankly uninteresting politics of the Telmarines and the Pevensie children’s drawn out reintroduction to Narnia by way of a surly dwarf named Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage). The child actors are as serviceable as ever, but still less than remarkable; with Sergio Castellitto’s Miraz as conventional a baddie as can be, the panache of Tilda Swinton as the terrifying White Witch is sorely missed – although she does make a brief, somewhat unnecessary cameo which serves to reinforce the underlying, manifestly Christian, good-versus-evil polarity of C.S. Lewis’s source material.
Aslan is given much less to do this time around, primarily motivating the children to discuss faith and belief in veiled terms with his absence, but as voiced by Liam Neeson he is still the very embodiment of dignity and authority. And joining the cast is Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep, a swashbuckling mouse warrior who will come into his own in the inevitable next installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Since the Lord of the Rings trilogy set the benchmark for epic fantasy adventure, imitators of every stripe have been attempting to match its popularity and acclaim. There have been miserable failures aplenty (the abortive The Dark is Rising adaptation comes immediately to mind), and innumerable tepid endeavors (Troy, The Golden Compass, etc.), but Narnia appears set to join Harry Potter among the ranks of the successful few.
In part, this is thanks to next-generation special effects, able to render an anthropomorphic Aslan as expressive as any human being, and battles as photorealistic as anything shot with thousands of extras (although, as in the Lord of the Rings series, some of the film’s most memorable shots are simply the beautiful vistas and scenery of New Zealand and Slovenia, where the outdoor scenes were shot). But a huge share of the credit belongs to Harry Gregson-Williams, whose grandiose, lyrical score lends the film most of its emotional impact, and lifts a number of scenes from mediocrity to mastery.
Like Harry Potter, the Narnia series is about literal escapism, about leaving this world for another, where anything is possible. And after a second well-made, well-rounded film, whose only flaw to speak of is a sluggish first act, director Andrew Adamson has good reason to believe that, looking forward, with five Narnia books left to adapt, anything is possible.