The second adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia books, Prince Caspian, is such a clunkerama that it made me rethink all the nice things I wrote about its predecessor, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Could the same people have made both films? The first was a Lord of the Rings wannabe, a big-budget saga of wicked sorceresses and talking beavers and thunderous battles. But at its center was a more delicate notion: the way children transform terrible traumas (in that case the blitz of London and the loss of a home) into fantasies of transcendence and parables of faith. Just as weighty as the hordes with swords was the snowflake on a little girl’s eyelash when she entered the winter world of Narnia. No one could have mistaken the director, Andrew Adamson, for the next Spielberg or Peter Jackson, but he got the balance between the epic and the intimate right.
The balance of Prince Caspian is off from the first sequence, which isn’t the Pevensie children (Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Moseley, and Anna Popplewell) getting whisked back to Narnia but the birth of a male child, a lot of jumbled palace machinations among swarthy bearded look-alikes, and the breathless nocturnal escape of the title character (Ben Barnes) from his murderous uncle. C. S. Lewis wasn’t the world’s most limpid storyteller, but he knew enough to stick with his kid heroes’ perspective and fill in Caspian’s story later, in flashback. It’s not like Caspian makes such a fascinating protagonist. Barnes looks every bit the storybook prince—CGI could not have improved on that cleft chin—but he declaims like Keanu Reeves in Shakespeare. He’s Hamlet without the poetry.
At every turn, the filmmakers go for clutter and tumult where simplicity would do—and Adamson, to put it kindly, isn’t the fleetest of action directors. In one scene, our heroes (human, Narnian, and centaur) run from a bunch of Telmarine soldiers heading down a flight of stairs, and there’s a shot of the good guys trying to lift the heavy gate and then a shot of the soldiers on the stairs and then a shot of the gate beginning to budge and then a shot of the soldiers on the stairs and the heroes say “Hurry, hurry,” and the Telmarines—they’re still on the stairs. No army deserves to win that takes so long to go down stairs.
The CGI badger and swashbuckling mouse perk things up, Peter Dinklage has a moment or two as a humorless dwarf with an evil eye, and the kids are still likably nonactorish. But nothing has the centrifugal force of Tilda Swinton’s White Witch, who pops up in a cameo that’s the movie’s best scene. Prince Caspian needed her brisk malevolence—to edit the script, if nothing else.