For “Prince Caspian,” his audacious but curiously unaffecting follow-up to “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” director Andrew Adamson amplifies everything — the feral swordplay, the tender (but regrettably unsubtle) moments when teenage angst gives way to unrestrained infatuation, and the climactic battles pitting the inhabitants of Narnia against an army of assassins.
The message is clear enough: Bigger is better, especially the second time around.
Or is it? While “Caspian” is more sophisticated visually than its predecessor, looking every bit as grand as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it lacks some of the captivating spirit of “Wardrobe.”
That film introduced us to a fantastic world of mythical creatures, in which fauns and chatty, forest-dwelling critters appeal to a Christ-like savior — Aslan, the leonine ruler of Narnia — to rescue them from the dreaded White Witch. This time, Narnia is no longer virgin territory. We’ve been there before, under far more magical circumstances.
Although 1,300 years have passed since our inaugural visit, rendering Aslan’s kingdom a decrepit shell of its once-glorious self, Narnia’s fortunes have hardly changed.
Liberated from the grasp of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), whose brief cameo provides one of the film’s most haunting sequences, it has fallen into the hands of Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), a Telmarine tyrant of vaguely Mediterranean descent who preaches the gospels of imperialism and genocide.
Standing in his way are his nephew Caspian (Ben Barnes), the rightful heir to the throne Miraz covets, and the Narnians he plans to slaughter.
Miraz exiles his nephew, but he is hardly prepared for the struggle that ensues.
Led by Caspian and the Pevensie siblings — the British foursome from the first film, summoned back to Narnia in the emergency — Aslan’s followers launch an ill-advised assault on Miraz’s castle, though the lion king is conspicuously absent.
From there, “Caspian” loses some of the richly textured magic of children’s fantasy, settling into an increasingly tedious cycle of battles and culminating in the inevitable showdown between the Telmarines and Aslan himself.
As a purely technical achievement, “Prince Caspian” is brilliant, a seamless marriage of technology and elaborate choreography that yields a darkly stunning spectacle.
It doubles as a sturdy vehicle for the acting talents of its young stars, particularly William Moseley, who, as the hotheaded Peter Pevensie, brings to his character a sense of ferocity noticeably missing from “Wardrobe.” And yet problems remain.
Adamson, like author C.S. Lewis before him, spends too much time on the battlefield, slowing the film’s momentum even as it builds toward its long-in-coming climax.
A romance between Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) and Caspian is hastily suggested and clumsily resolved.
And, simply put, there is not enough Aslan to satisfy longtime “Narnia” fans. Is that enough to rob the film of its essential sense of wonder? Not quite. Narnia endures, after all.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (two and half stars)
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell
Written by Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Running time 2 hours 27 minutes