My love for fantasy has been well-documented. So of course I went and saw Prince Caspian. I went and saw The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, too! And I wasn’t sure what to make of that one. It hit all the beats of the book, which I appreciated (I became a big Narnia fan in 4th grade), but something was amiss. It just looked so… fake. So cheap. The actual CG was decent (impressive, even). But Narnia just didn’t feel like a real place. Granted, WETA took things a few (thousand) steps above those stupid BBC movies, but Narnia still looked like a soundstage covered in soap flakes half the time. And the child actors could be so wooden. The ones playing Lucy and Edmund were well enough to make do with, but Peter and Susan had approximately zero personality. Almost any scene with all four of them trying to act like a family was like a charisma vacuum. But it had a fantastic villain in the White Witch, played to the nines by the inimitable Academy Award-winner Tilda Swinton. It entertained juuuust enough to make me forgive the fact that the story is such an obvious metaphor for Jesus’ resurrection. And the fact that Santa fucking Claus shows up. So how does the sequel stack up?
Prince Caspian doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff this time. After a mysteriously majestic Disney logo sequence, the movie opens up on a screaming lady giving birth in a castle. The baby pops out and it’s a boy! Congratulations!… Unless you’re Prince Caspian. His fat, hairy professor sneaks into his room at night (which doesn’t seem to bother Caspian, interestingly enough) to warn him that his uncle Lord Miraz has been given a son and he should escape, pronto. Caspian goes along with this and they escape through a secret passage in a wardrobe (HA!) just in the nick of time to see a bunch of soldiers creep into his room and pelt his bed with arrows. They escape to the stables where the tutor gives Caspian a horse and a special item that he must only use as a last resort. They exchange a meaningful farewell and Caspian escapes from the castle as fireworks go off celebrating the birth of Miraz’s son.
It’s a ton of exposition to get out of the way and they still aren’t done as the credits start rolling. Caspian escapes to the forest (which seems to hold a superstitious danger for the soldiers) and he unfortunately gets hit by a branch and knocked off the horse. The noise causes two dwarves (!) to come out of a nearby tree. They panic and decide to kill him. The soldiers are closing in on him and the dwarves are almost upon him, so Caspian reaches for the last resort, a horn, and gives it a toot.
SUDDENLY IT’S ENGLAND CIRCA WWII. We rejoin Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Potter Pevensie as they are adjusting (poorly) to life in their own world a year after exiting Narnia. Peter’s getting into fights, Susan’s a bubbling cauldron of womanly hormones and the other two who cares. They’re about to board the subway when they feel a pull and via a pretty awesome sequence they’re transported back to New Zealand Narnia! There they discover (after an intrusive musical cue) that it’s been 1300 years since they went missing in Narnia and in the meantime, the country’s been brutally invaded by their Western neighbors, the Telmarines, and they mounted a campaign to eradicate the Narnians that was so successful that Narnians are just legends to them now. As the Pevensies learn pretty soon, though, the Narnians aren’t dead, just underground, and they rescue the grumpy dwarf Trumpkin. The rest of the movie goes on to unite them with Caspian in a rebellion against the Telmarines and the evil King Miraz to free Narnia and restore Caspian to the throne.
That’s a LOT of story. And still the movie cut things out of the screenplay that were in the book. Unfortunately, a lot of that was stuff that actually built up Caspian as an actual character rather than the heartthrob high school girls can pin up in their lockers. Prince Caspian is SUPPOSED to be a huge, major character (the book’s titled after him, after all) but in the movie he’s just sort of an also-ran. I understand they have an already established cast of protagonists to manage with all four Pevensie children, but Caspian just sort of gets relegated to the sidelines for most of the picture. There’s some drama that happens when he learns Miraz killed his father, but that’s about the extent of it.
And I sort of have issues with the “lesson” that this story’s supposed to teach us. Aslan’s disappeared from Narnia for centuries so everyone assumes he’s abandoned them, but Lucy starts seeing him pop up as the story goes on. He doesn’t stick around, though, so no one believes her until the end when she goes on a cockamamie mission by herself that isn’t really explained and poof! There he is! His excuse for not showing himself in the first place is that he did that in the first story and “Things never happen the same way twice.” Um? Is that the best you can do, Jesus Aslan? I’d be pretty damn pissed at him if I was Lucy, but she just sort of blithely accepts it. She even defends him against the others, saying that instead of Aslan having to prove himself to them, maybe they need to prove themselves to Aslan. Look, I get the whole Christian angle to this. This is supposed to be about Jesus after the resurrection and how people kept asking him to come storming in and fix their lives when in reality Jesus helps those that have faith in him or whatever. But we all know that the real reason Aslan doesn’t help them until the end is because if he didn’t, the story would be over five minutes after they set foot in Narnia. And that point with Aslan is sort of the sticking point of his character. Either you admire and respect his resemblence to Christ and the whole moralizing, righteous slant that brings or it drives you insane. I’m somewhere in the middle.
But aside from those flaws, Prince Caspian works as a summer movie. It’s got way more action than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and better action. It’s surprising (and a bit disturbing?) how much carnage these kids unleash upon the the Telmarines without a single drop of blood. And the climactic duel between Peter and Miraz is shockingly visceral and brutal for a modern kids’ movie, too. If they’d gone for any kind of realistic level of gore in this picture, it easily would’ve broke into the PG-13 range. The way this movie behaves, it feel very close to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Lots of speeches and battles and “Why do we fight?” ramblings. The special effects are way better than the first movie and since everything isn’t covered in silly fake snow, things are much easier to take seriously. Aside from Gollum, I think WETA shines more at practical special effects rather than CG blitzes, although this movie handles those well enough, too. (Aslan vs. Gollum, who’d win?!) Although a couple of the special effects WILL make you point at the screen and go “LORD OF THE RINGS!!” because of how they just blatantly echo their counterparts.
Let me get the BAD acting out of the way. Ben Barnes must be great on the casting couch because why ELSE would anyone give him the title role in a summer tentpole film? He’s pretty; that’s it. And when he’s not standing around being nigh-useless he’s speaking with a ridiculous accent. (All the Telmarines have luxurious generic Romance language accents.) He’s just a bad actor. Pure and simple. Peter’s actor has somewhat improved since the last film. At least he’s not dull. Now he’s actually sort of obnoxious. He picks fights with EVERYONE and makes HORRIBLE decisions and his one redeeming trait is that he has a really awesome sword fight at the end. And his acting is mehhh. He doesn’t seem to have any other faces when he tries to express emotion. He’ll be trying to be angry and he looks the same as he always does. Susan’s actress is actually a DECENT actress but Susan doesn’t have too much to do besides shoot arrows and lust after Ben Barnes. Edmund might as well be invisible but he has a few good moments. It just feels like he doesn’t fit the goody-goody character anymore. A lot of the lines he delivers with something attempting sincerity, but it just feels hollow. He was a much better fit for the edgier, brattier Edmund of the first film. Lucy, amazingly, is the best actor of the lot. She seems like she could grow into a good child actress with a bit more experience. The actress from The Golden Compass still wipes the floor with the lot of them, though.
The REALLY great acting in this film, though, comes from the supporting cast. Peter Dinklage is PERFECT as the dwarf Trumpkin. He brings the sort of deadpan sarcastic wit that I love and the bit of salt that a wholesome movie like Prince Caspian needed. I’ll be keeping my eye on him in the future~~~. Eddie Izzard gives a fine bravado as proud mouse warrior Reepicheep, and I’m glad, since we’d have to put up with him for another movie (AND BEN BARNES |:c). Tilda Swinton returns as the White Witch and for the few minutes she’s on screen, she reminds you why the villains in this movie suck compared to her. And of course Liam Neeson rocks out Aslan. He’s got some sort of degree in paternal wisdom ever since Star Wars Episode I.
Whenever Prince Caspian shows its true colors as a great summer flick to fill the fantasy void in your heart, it soars. The attack on Miraz’ castle and the battle at the end are pretty well done and exciting. Whenever the movie tries to rely on the acting skills of its lead characters, it stumbles. There’s one scene where Peter starts to tear his shirt to light a torch, but Edmund pipes up that he has a flashlight. And they all stand there giggling for like 20 seconds and it’s awkward and they don’t feel like a family at all. Thankfully there’s enough sarcastic dwarves and pithy mice and retarded bears (?!) to make up for all the stillborn attempts at character development. Go into Prince Caspian ready to see some spectacles and to go on a rollicking fantasy ride and you should do okay. Expecting the Second Coming of Lord of the Rings (or Aslan, even) is a bit much.