In the wake of the incredible success of both the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises, Disney seemed to have hit upon the perfect property on which to build its own series of fantasy adventure films, C.S. Lewis' classic The Chronicles of Narnia. The Narnia books were a series that not only provided magic and mayhem, but a quasi-medieval world of trolls, centaurs and other fantastic beasts, thereby culling some of the most engaging threads of both Potter and Rings, but the books were also a series which posited a firm moral center, in fact a blatantly Christian allegory, that seemed to fit perfectly with Disney's own corporate ideology. Alas, the first film didn't really play up the Christian subtext of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, probably for fear of alienating large populations in the worldwide market. While that in itself didn't sink the film, there was a curious lack of magic (the filmic kind, not the "real" kind portrayed in all of these fantasy movies) that made the going awfully lethargic at times, and that's something that unfortunately carries over into this second outing, Prince Caspian. Caspian is a film with everything that money can buy, huge sets, gorgeous costumes, at times very engaging CGI special effects, a Howard Shore-lite score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and yet it often is all for naught, due to the curious lack of human emotion and wonder that at least fitfully visited the first film in the series.
It's both intentionally and unintentionally ironic when great lion Aslan tells little Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley), "Things never happen the same way twice." It's intentionally ironic because Aslan says it two times in the film, and unintentionally ironic because Caspian in many ways seems like a warmed over remake of the first film, not the least because it simply repeats the basic plot elements of The Lion in slightly altered form. The bottom line is Narnia's in trouble again (almost extinct, it turns out) and the Pevensie kids are called back from wartime London to aid in its defense. This time they're up against the Telmarines, whose exiled Prince Caspian may or may not be an ally. Caspian is in a fight of his own against his ruthless Uncle, who has claimed the throne of the Telmarines for his own and is intent on eradicating Narnia and its remaining inhabitants once and for all.
While Pevensies Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are frankly more or less exactly the same as they were in the first film. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) is no longer the petulant semi-bad boy of the first film, but that sadly keeps him from contributing much this time, with the shades of gray scenario instead passing to Caspian (Ben Barnes), a maddeningly written character who is by turns heroic and stupid, venal and honorable, pretty much like Edmund the first time round. In fact there are several moments where some viewers may be tempted to turn the film off if only because plot machinations are put into motion only through some pretty poorly motivated actions by Caspian. It's all the more incomprehensible when an underdeveloped love interest between Caspian and Susan (not really part of the original book) is part and parcel of the proceedings, something focused on in the climax of the film which is perhaps leaving the door open for a romantic strand in the upcoming third film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
With all of the above comments you might be forgiven for thinking that I think Caspian is a total bust, and it really isn't. Director Andrew Adamson has an overall firm grip on the epic sweep of the film (including two very impressive battle sequences, the first of which, a nighttime raid on Caspian's Uncle's castle, is magnificent), giving Caspian an awesome sweep with plenty to look at, especially in this Blu-ray edition. I nonetheless personally had some qualms over some strange editing choices--in one of the first forest scenes with the centaurs and other magical beasts, all of the dialogue is between the Pevensies and Caspian, and yet we cut away just for a second to one solitary centaur. Why? Later, in what could have been a very effective fast dolly shot into Susan shooting her arrows, the shot is broken up into two segments, one very brief, interrupted by a non-related shot. Again, why? For a film that was evidently as massively storyboarded as Caspian was, this sort of minutiae may seem trivial, but it's all the more confounding because great swaths of the film flow so well, visually at least.
What's missing here is any real connection with any of the characters, especially the Pevensies, with perhaps the exception of helpful dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage). The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at least had us rooting unfailingly for the four siblings, but this time out there's really no doubt that the Pevensies are going to triumph, and without any other hooks to engage the audience, there's really not much else there aside from spectacle. Barnes as Caspian is halting and stiff, and at times hard to understand (something shared by Sergio Castellito as Caspian's nefarious uncle). This film is certainly more epic than the first, with one impressively staged set piece after another, and yet it's strangely non-engaging, something akin to watching a grand parade on television--there's a lot of motion and activity, but the viewer feels oddly removed from it all.
What Adamson, Walden and Disney may have forgotten in the mammoth production that is all of these Narnia films is that it was the human element that made the Potter and Rings films so smashingly successful. That connection to character was there in at least a passing degree in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and hopefully it can be found again for the upcoming third film. As it stands, Prince Caspian is a gargantuan visual and aural feast with very little going on at both it literal and figurative heart.