Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Director: Andrew Adamson
Starring: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Ben Barnes
Rating: 3 stars (out of five)
It’s round two of C.S. Lewis’ beloved adventure-story-as-Christian-allegory, and apparently at this point we’ve reached the Crusades metaphors. All right, there are no specific references to wiping out unbelievers, but there sure as hell is a lot of medieval war. Our cast of engagingly unengaging British waifs returns to Narnia a year after the last flick, finds out that something like 1300 years have passed, and spends the entire sequel battling Spanish conquistadors who apparently got very, very lost looking for a shortcut to Asia.
“This is like Braveheart,” my companion whispered in my ear. And she didn’t mean anyone had painted their asses blue. She meant it was a huge amount of ragtag loser army fighting well-disciplined badguy army, only now with centaurs and dwarves as your crazy fictional characters (in place of Mel Gibson, then).
We open with the grim — medieval Spaniards are plotting against good crown Prince Caspian, and they’re plotting with crossbows. He stumbles into the forest of little people (Hello, ever-popular Warwick Davis). Then our four human adventure kids are mucking around WWII-era London, a little bummed that they’ve spent a year being Just Kids after their previous Narnian adventure. And then, zap, they’re sucked right back into Narnia. Only, this being a sequel, it’s a darker, meaner Narnia.
This viewer, who saw the first film way back on release and never read the books, couldn’t remember why these kids were special. Something is said to suggest they’re reincarnations of something, or maybe they used to be adults and got de-aged (which I know wasn’t in the first film), so the movie does a bad job of filling in the blanks for us. But once the adventure starts, I was willing to surrender to the good clean fun.
Which mostly entails —war. What is it good for? Trying my patience — there’s just too much of it. We’ve got here a kids’ film full of the kind of martial horror our news media is so carefully protecting us from. And speaking of protecting, we’re spared almost any sign of actual carnage or consequence of war. At least two of our heroic kids must rack up double-digit body counts, but we barely catch a fleeting glimpse of any corpses at all. I can see protecting the kiddies, but if you’re gonna make a two-hour-plus movie that’s one brutal medieval battle after another, have the cojones to show the consequences a little better, you know?
There’s also a chaste romance thread betwixt Prince Caspian and Susan, the eldest of the two British girls, and it’s fairly satisfying for being so low-key and sanitized. Another subtle plot is Susan’s role between Caspian and her eldest brother, Peter, as the two boys struggle for leadership of the fawning army. (I don’t mean to say the army is adoring. I mean, they’re all, like, fauns. And gryphons, and maybe elves.)
Less subtle is a tedious and unsuccessful religious allegory. I know Lewis’ work has stood the test of time, and I know I’ll never get organized religion, but: We have the God (Jesus?) metaphor as a talking lion who has guided fought beside our heroes before. He abandons the people who love and depend on him for 13 centuries, and when asked why, he tells an adoring little girl “nothing ever happens the same way twice.” That’s it. He evades the question several times but never explains why, big font of love and justice he is, he doesn’t show up and help his friends. If that ain’t an effective argument against loving a person/entity/abstract hypothetical, I don’t know what is. (Note: I’m sparing y’all my bitter 4,000-word essay on this topic. Thanks may be expressed in chocolate, comic books or fine whiskey.)
So: Some subtle, engaging character work, too much war, too much source-material religiosity (your mileage may vary) “¦ appealing actors, a director who keeps it all flowing and looking good. It’s less fantasy, more martial than the first one, but still of a piece. A fair continuation, but awarding it three whole stars is probably me being a tiny bit too generous.