Contrary to the title, the hero of Prince Caspian is not a man but a mouse. Meet Reepicheep, a rapier-thrusting rodent who joins the good fight shortly into Disney/Walden Media’s second punt at CS Lewis’ seven-book myths’n’magic cycle. Voiced with a dandy-ish dash by Eddie Izzard, his lovely sign-off – lifted semi-intact from the book – underlines his chivalrous charm in fat marker pen. In short, the moviemakers have an exact handle on the character, breathing wit and soul into his pixelled whiskers. It’s more or less the same for all the other talking fauna roaming Narnia: bears, badgers, minotaurs, centaurs, dwarves, wolves in Sith clothing…
Basically, anything non-human is no problem; it’s the homo sapiens who gum up the works. Two-and-a-half years after The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the Pevensie sibs are back: older, wiser, just as dull. Surely some of the $738 million the first film banked could’ve been sunk into better acting classes… often, our cardboard quartet make Harry Potter’s so-so trio look like Stewart, Grant and Hepburn. Even the spark of mischief in little Lucy (Georgie Henley)’s eye has dimmed. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have James McAvoy’s faun to riff with. Instead, there’s the title royal himself, an ousted throne-heir whose emergency horn-call to the Pevensies whisks them off a Tube platform and back to Narnia 1,300 years after they left (though it’s only been 12 months in Finchley-time). Pre-release pics of Brit-actor Ben Barnes in his knightly getup prompted chatroom swoons, but on celluloid he’s not all that. Beneath the wavy locks he’s as stiff as a pencil, an all-too-fitting addition to the family. Take the supposedly serious sword-spat between Caspian and the eldest Pevensie, Peter (William Moseley); it’s like schoolboys having a ruler-fight while Miss is out of the room…
Of course, the under-12s don’t flock to a flick like this to judge the thesping talent. They want a detailed otherworld, daring rescues, skin-of-the-teeth escapes and sweeping battles fought with big, swishing swords. All of which this Chronicle delivers with polish and professionalism, if not a whole lot of passion. Returning director Andrew Adamson has the mandate to make a darker, harder sequel (“You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember,” warns Trumpkin), but rarely ups the ante on his Lord Of The Rings-lite original. In fact, said ante stays static in virtually all departments bar the creature FX, where there’s greater weight and grace.
What’s really missing – probably CS Lewis’ fault as much as anyone’s – is a truly boo-able baddie. Italy’s Sergio Castellitto glowers and mutters as the power-pinching King Miraz, who wants rid of Caspian and the Pevensies. But his swarthy stereotype is more like one of Evil’s footsoldiers than its generals. The script’s sharpest detour from the text brings Tilda Swinton’s White Witch (briefly) back to show ’em how it’s done; reaching and tempting from her winter limbo, she jacks the sense of danger skywards.
But then normal service resumes, bloodless and a bit plodding, yet always driven by a sincere urge not to let set-pieces hijack story. If part one transported you, there’s no reason why this won’t do the same. It’s wholesome, it’s busy, it’s crawling with fights and beasts and scenes of midnight intrigue in tall towers. And there’s an epic bit where a huge water god washes in to sort it all out. The still-sceptical, meanwhile, can take heart that the series is due a spring-clean; 2010’s The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader will hand the reins to a more seasoned live-action director (Michael Apted), dump half the kids and give Reepicheep more time to shine. Excellent. Let’s put the money where the mouse is…
Lots of graft and care, but there's still only one chainmail-and-monsters fantasy saga. Too stiff and stately to inspire new fans, but the colourful creatures and design just manage to shore up the foreground.
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