[Screen It]

(2008) (Ben Barnes, William Moseley) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: Four siblings return to a mythological land, only to find that 1,300 years have passed and that the existence of the survivors there is now threatened.
Having magically traveled to the land of Narnia where they were treated as kings and queens and defeated the evil White Witch while helping return Aslan the Lion to power, the Pevensie siblings -- Peter (WILLIAM MOSELEY), Susan (ANNA POPPLEWELL), Edmund (SKANDAR KEYNES) and young Lucy (GEORGIE HENLEY) are now back in WWII era London.

Little do they know, however, that 1,300 years have passed since their departure and that human Telmarines have apparently hunted the Narnians into extinction. But that doesn't mean the conquerors are above killing their own kind, for once Queen Prunaprismia (ALICIA BORRACHERO) bears Lord Miraz (SERGIO CASTELLITTO) a son, the scheming ruler deems his nephew, Prince Caspian X (BEN BARNES), expendable.

Thankfully, his mentor, Doctor Cornelius (VINCENT GRASS), warns him of the pending treachery, thus allowing the young prince to escape into the nearby woods with General Glozelle (PIERFRANDESCO FAVINO) and his men in hot pursuit. There, Prince Caspian encounters Trumpkin the Red Dwarf (PETER DINKLAGE) and Nikabrik the Black Dwarf (WARWICK DAVIS) who aren't pleased to see a Telmarine in their midst.

Glozelle captures Trumpkin, but Caspian manages to get off a distress call before Nikabrik gets him. That summons the Pevensie kids who are magically transported back to Narnia where they're shocked to find nothing but ruins, although Lucy hasn't lost faith that Aslan (voice of LIAM NEESON) isn't far away.

Miraz, meanwhile, is using Trumpkin's presence to convince the other rulers, such as Lord Sopespian (DAMIAN ALCAZAR) that the Narnians are not only still around, but in great numbers and must be exterminated. Of course, he pushes that agenda because he knows Caspian is still in the Narnia woods and must be dealt with.

Caspian soon finds himself in the company of talking animals, such as Trufflehunter the Badger (voice of KEN STOTT) and Reepicheep the Mouse (voice of EDDIE IZZARD), along with mythological creatures including Asterius the Minotaur (SHANE RANGI), Glenstorm the Centaur (CORNELL S. JOHN), and others of their kind. Knowing the Telmarine world, the prince is chosen to lead the Narnians in battle against them, but is role is usurped by Peter and his siblings.

From that point on, and vastly outnumbered, they, Prince Caspian and the various Narnians do what they can and must to save themselves.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Here's the problem with fantasy worlds. Since they're not based on the rules of our universe, there's no reason to expect they'll behave the same way as ours. That's true regarding anything from the inhabitants and how they operate, which way the sun rises and sets, and how time passes by.

It's the latter that most surprises the quartet of Pevensie siblings when they return to the titular land found in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," the sequel to the 2005 mega-hit "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." You see, when they last left Narnia to return to London, the fantastic four (sorry, wrong movie) had just vanquished the White Witch, helped restore the Christ-like Aslan the lion to power, and everything seemed hunky-dory.

Perhaps it's their mode of travel there (a London subway station with an increasingly speeding train passing by vs. a stationary wardrobe in an old country manor), but upon their arrival, the kids learn that 1,300 years have passed by, Narnia is nothing but ruins, and its inhabitants and their former friends and allies are seemingly long dead.

Yes, nothing says kicking off children's entertainment with such news, but returning director Andrew Adamson actually begins his adaptation of C.S. Lewis' second installment of the popular series with a birth. Not of a Narnian, but rather the son of a human Telmarine lord whose ancestors long ago seemingly exterminated the otherworldly creatures. That new heir means the ruler's nephew is now expendable, resulting in our titular hero fleeing into the woods where, lo and behold, he discovers that Narnians are more than just ancient myths, but are currently on the down low to avoid detection.

That discovery startles him, so he blows a note through a summoning device and before you can ask "Where's the wardrobe?" the siblings (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley all reprising their earlier roles) are whisked away to the faraway land to once again play savior (but not the Savior, as that role once again falls upon the mighty voice of Liam Neeson coupled with the top-notch special effects work to create the Christian metaphorical figure).

With the necessary exposition out of the way (which takes far too long, with too many lingering scenes and shots), the kids, Prince Caspian, and a new set of mythological creatures and talking animals then set out to battle the evil ruler's massive army. The result, as was the case the first time around, are lots of massive battle sequences, the kind of which are technically impressive, but have over-populated period action films for the past decade or so.

While also already old hat back during the first film's release, at least such scenes of wide-scale but relatively blood-free carnage were surrounded by the novelty, introduction and setup of the imaginative world, its inhabitants and, of course, the four kids. With most of that already out of the way here, the battle sequences end up piling up into a heap of redundancy (although they still raise the question of how this film and its predecessor eked out PG ratings).

Things may be more polished and confidently handled this time around, but if you've seen one such battle in any given film before, they all start to look and feel the same, and the repetitiveness and familiarity steal a lot of this film's thunder. Nonetheless, at least they help pick up the pace that's laboriously pokey during the film's first half where a whole lot of next to nothing transpires.

It certainly doesn't help that the kids and those inhabiting them -- as a group -- still aren't as interesting and the performances aren't as rich as in the "Harry Potter" flicks, or that the much ballyhooed lead debut by Ben Barnes isn't terribly noteworthy. Yes, tween-aged girls will probably swoon over his good looks, long mane of dark hair, and the questionable Spanish accent. Beyond that and the standard-issue treachery afflicted on his character, however, there just isn't that much there.

As in most such films, it's the supporting performances that are the most affecting or at least interesting. Peter Dinklage is quite good as the red dwarf Trumpkin, while the CGI-created, flamboyant swashbuckler mouse (voiced by Eddie Izzard) steals every scene in which he appears. He'll obviously draw comparisons to the similarly constructed Puss in Boots character from the "Shrek" films, but perhaps Adamson (who directed the first two of those) can now stop utilizing such guaranteed fallback creations to please the viewing masses.

All of those fun characters and often stunning special effects, however, can't hide the fact that the screenplay -- penned by him and fellow returning scribes Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely -- barely has enough material to sustain the film's overlong 140 or so minute runtime (sadly, the teased return of the White Witch is only just that).

And time is what matters most here, not only regarding those 1,300 years (thus, I suppose, setting a record for most temporal storyline distance between a film and its sequel), but also the fact that those playing the kids are getting older and soon will appear too mature for the roles.

With the suggestion that some might not be around (at least in full) the next time around, perhaps that will allow for whoever directs the next installment to focus more on character and story than in staging even more massive battle sequences. Okay, but not as good as the original, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" will likely please the series' diehard fans, but aside from good special effects, it doesn't offer much of anything new for everyone else. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 13, 2008 / Posted May 16, 2008

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