The Chronicles of Narnia:
An ear-ringed mouse holds his rapier against a stunned invader’s throat. With a snarl that of course is more cute than threatening, the rodent spits, “you have no imagination!”
Luckily, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian director Arthur Adamson does. With his sophomore effort in Narnia, Adamson shows a lot more creativity – or gives his production staff a lot more room – and a lot more confidence, taking off from the charming but somewhat limited fantasy he delivered previously. This time around, you can believe in the Land of Narnia, its peoples and the struggle to liberate it from not a White Witch, but humans with no sense of wonder beyond their own ambition.
On some level, that makes the threat of the Telmarines rather mundane, more political than threatening that anything could happen. To fill that gap, though, Adamson ups the action. The fight choreography in this installment is far more exciting and acrobatic, particularly in a one on one swordfight between Peter Pevensie (William Moseley) and Caspian’s evil uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellito).
Keeping with the progression of the source novels and the film’s potential audience, the emotional stakes grow deeper, too. Peter finds himself angrier and angrier in the real world, having once ruled in Narnia for decades then reduced back to a teenager. This translates into his being too eager to prove himself once transported back to that magic land, with consequences far darker than he had before.
Despite Prince Caspian being more violent, Adamson keeps away from gore. Sometimes it’s suggestive, as in a beheading that focuses on a broken mask rather than a bouncing cranium. Other times, it’s merely bloodless, in the way that would have been done back in the fifties and sixties. If anything, Adamson’s work evokes the feeling of an old epic movie. This time, however, it has believable minotaurs, centaurs, dwarves and that savage warrior mouse Reepicheep (Eddie Izzard).
More than 1400 years have passed in Narnia since the Pevensies ruled. Shortly after they found their way back to England, Aslan (Liam Neeson again) disappeared as well. In their absence a savage race of “Sons of Adam” invaded. The Telmarines look and act like medieval Spaniards, or at least Hollywood’s version of them. You might half expect Caspian (Ben Barnes) to confront his Uncle and say, “hello, you killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Instead, Caspian flees the kingdom and stumbles into Narnia, blowing the Horn of Queen Susan and summoning the ancient rulers back. That’s a little less impressive to the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), who joins the foursome in trying to save Narnia and figuring out just what to do with Caspian.
Along the way, the Christian allegory seems a little stronger, but it never gets obnoxious. Clearly, a theme runs through about faith and the responsibility of the absent Aslan towards the peoples he loves. With co-screenwriter Christopher Markus, Adamson steers things a little more toward the idea of imagination versus pragmatism. In the novels, the Telmarines do seem a little more Arabic, but the film wisely removes any trace of this being a religious clash. The spiritual struggles here are internal.
Externally, we get spectacle. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe felt very much enclosed in a soundstage, but Prince Caspian is much more open and sprawling.
The performances, however, are tightly controlled and spot on. In a sentence I never thought I would be writing, this may be Warwick Davis’ best acting role, as the dwarf Nikabrik – the first time I’ve ever seen him and he wasn’t instantly recognizable. Maybe he was inspired by Dinklage, buried under prosthetics that change almost everything but his expressive eyes.
With Izzard, he provides the most comic relief, but also a lot of the heart of the film, a character feeling abandoned and then awakening back to faith, even if it means being called “Dear Little Friend” by Lucy (Georgie Henley).
In the title role, Barnes fills the heartthrob role with aplomb and the right note of earnestness. He makes a good screen hero, older than High King Peter and unsure of exactly how much obeisance to show. Though the Narnia books don’t have much romance, the screenplay suggests a little more as Susan (Anna Popplewell) chastely discovers that she likes boys. Or at least one armored long-haired boy.
But aside from violence that might be too strong for little kids, Prince Caspian stays in territory that makes this a family film first and foremost. Thankfully, it stays a good one from start to finish, and makes me all the more eager for the third, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.