Return to Narnia a familiar journey
|Return to Narnia a familiar journey|
by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN Contributing Writer
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Opening May 16
Only a year removed from their dramatic and triumphant victories in the land of Narnia, Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) Pevensie suddenly find themselves transported back to the magical land while standing in the middle of a London subway station. What they discover is that 1,300 years have passed inside their former kingdom, and the palace they once called home is now nothing more than a pile of crumbling ruins.
Once again they must summon all of their strength and courage to help save the fantastical land they desperately love, this time coming to the aid of the noble Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) as he valiantly tries to end the war between his people and the mystical Narnians. But this task will not be an easy one. Caspian's uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) wants the throne all to himself, and he's assembled an army so massive even the mighty lion Aslan (Liam Neeson) might not be able to summon the roar to stop it.
As a film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is far more satisfying an adventure than the previous chapter The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ever was. The story of a Prince trying to regain his throne from a maniacal warlord is pretty straightforward, following all the usual story arcs and character beats you would expect from a fantasy-adventure such as this one. It's all very Ladyhawke meets The Lord of the Rings with a dash of Star Wars, and as summertime popcorn entertainment goes a person could really do one hell of a lot worse.
The problem is, unlike the first engrossing multifaceted chapter in writer C.S. Lewis' popular literary saga, this one is almost too simplistic. There aren't any surprises, nothing new or inspiring to catch a viewer's attention in a way that feels fresh or original. Platoons of soldiers march across huge green fields, catapults fire, swords clash, arrows fly and winged creatures take to the air in frenzied flight, and while technically everything is spot-on, the feelings of déjà vu I felt sitting in the theater were decidedly uninspired.
All of which probably wouldn't be such an issue if director (and co-screenwriter) Andrew Adamson and company and kept things running at a brisk pace and didn't feel the need to stretch things out to such an oppressive length. At 140 minutes, this journey to Narnia feels as if it lasts forever, and while the battles themselves are far more visually engaging this time around getting to them takes so long I almost fell asleep waiting.
Still, when I say I liked Prince Caspian better as a movie then I did The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I really do mean it (even if I feel exactly opposite about the books on which these two films are based). Each of the four young stars has become much more comfortable in front of the camera (even though Henley again steals every scene she's in), while Barnes makes as dashing (and as sexy) a hero as any we're likely to see this summer. The great Peter Dinklage also has some great moments as a diminutive dwarf reluctantly helping the heroes, while Castellitto is a serviceable villain able to twirl his Snidely Whiplash mustache with the best of them.
The problem is that, as good as many of these individual pieces are I can't help but feel like I've seen all this far too many times before over the last few years. Peter Jackson and company have, for better or for worse, pretty much ran the fantasy genre into the ground. While the sights and sounds here rival almost any to be found in his masterful J.R.R. Tolkein masterworks, the vibrant pulse of blissful human achievement so beguilingly obvious in that particular trilogy just hasn't been replicated inside either of Adamson's Narnia adventures. There is one moment where the director gets it perfect. Recent Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton pops up for a frigid cameo so unsettling, so absolutely terrifying and monstrous, not only are we reminded just how brilliant she was in the first film but we're also given a brief glimpse into just how good this sequel could have been. In mere seconds she pounds home Lewis' themes of personal achievement and philosophical faith with absolute certainty, a few words all it takes for her to send chills down my spine and freeze my heart cold with an icy stare. The scene is paced with conviction and purpose, all of it driven by the characters desperately trying to find a solution to the coming war threatening to eradicate them all. If the rest of the movie had the conviction and sense of purpose of this one moment then Prince Caspian would have the look and the feel of a classic. Instead it is only just barely a bit better than fine, the movie nothing more than functional entertainment almost unworthy of the price of a matinee. If returning to Narnia is going to keep feeling and looking like this, maybe Disney would be better off just keeping this series of books solidly closed.