The first Chronicles of Narnia movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was decent. It was marketed as the solution to the void that The Lord of the Rings left in its wake, and, frankly, it failed to live up to expectations. The movie was a children's movie, which was fine, but it stayed comfortably within its PG rating even when it promised magnificent battles and medieval, fantastic action. Beyond that, director Andrew Adamson had never directed a live action picture, and it was a risky and ultimately poor move by Disney to put him in control of such a gigantic franchise opener. The movie was clunky, not particularly imaginative and way too long for the story it was presenting. That being said, it was good enough.
Adamson has returned to direct the second film, Prince Caspian, and, thankfully, it appears as though he truly learned from his mistakes. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is a thousand times better than its predecessor in every way. The story is more engaging, the action more exciting, and, most importantly, the visuals much grittier. Prince Caspian is rated PG, but parents should be warned; this movie truly does stretch its rating. In many ways, this movie is the perfect representation of what is wrong with the MPAA; Prince Caspian has no sex or gore, but is quite violent. Despite decapitations, murders, executions and plenty of deaths, the MPAA still gives the movie a PG rating. Of course, that's good for everyone over the age of ten.
The movie picks up a year after the last one ended, with the four kids back in London. Magically, they are swept back to the land of Narnia, but not the Narnia they remember. Over a thousand years have passed, and humans have all but exterminated every Narnian creature. To complicate matters, the King has just ordered the death of his nephew Prince Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne. Caspian escapes into Narnia and forms an awkward alliance with the four kids and a small band of Narnians to reclaim their lands once and for all and bring harmony to the different races.
Prince Caspian is a very good summer movie. Adamson defies expectations in the first minute, as we are introduced to the political intrigue and attempted executive of the title character. Almost immediately, you can tell Prince Caspian has an entirely new and grittier look; the colors are more pronounced, the film less glossy, the picture more intriguing. When the action starts, Adamson dives into the middle of the battle with few reservations. Pushing the PG rating to the extreme, Caspian is amazingly violent, brutal and intense, even though Adamson clips away the split second before any blood or gore is shown. Nevertheless, that doesn't pass on the chance to imply hundreds of deaths, betrayals and even a beheading.
The best scene of the movie is a man-to-man fight between Peter (William Moseley) and the evil King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). Adamson pulls out some Gladiator-esque imagery to deliver every brutal punch and sword slap, somehow managing to avoid showing any blood in the process.
Beyond the action, the rest of the movie is pretty good, too. I liked the political meandering many of the characters take, and the writing in general. The film establishes several quality characters, especially that of Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage). The character development in general is quite good as well.
The only real similarity to the first film is the running time, which once again is overly long. After the explosive start to Prince Caspian, the movie slows down considerably as it sets the stage for what is to come. This is fine, but Adamson takes a little too long to get to the point. The movie is never boring, but the trimming of a few minutes here and there could have done wonders.
My only other complaint is that the character of Prince Caspian is pretty much a wuss. I haven't read the book since I was a kid, but I have to imagine that by the end of the story he's proven his worth at some point or another. In the movie, Caspian is a wimp from beginning to end. There's no defining moment for the character where he proves to the world - and the audience - that he is ready to be king, and this is a problem. I sure as hell wouldn't want him being responsible for my safety.
Nevertheless, despite a few flaws, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is an amazingly good film. Exciting and at times brutal, the movie is engaging and entertaining, which is more than I can ask for with a summer movie such as this. Highly recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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