The first movie I watched in a theatre in the States happened to be in Las Vegas, and was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Billed as the year end blockbuster, it never did really live up to its hype, and I did not really enjoy the movie. Perhaps being the most familiar of the Narnia stories that expectations of its treatment tend to be higher, and nonetheless coming off the sucessful Lord of the Rings franchise, it certainly had to scale a higher benchmark.
It's been a long wait for the follow up Prince Caspian to hit the screens, after a widely publicised postponement from the tail end of last year, which kept me wondering if it needed more time to be tweaked, or if it wanted to hit the summer holiday season to rake in more cash from the box office. Then perhaps after viewing it today, I realize that it's way much darker in tone for a Christmas season movie, and also to distance itself even further with a huge runway from the glut of mediocre fantasy fare like Eragon, the Dark is Rising and The Golden Compass, all based on contemporary stories, which I suppose if the literary classic of Narnia Chronicles could stand the test of time, surely its movie counterpart couldn't fare all that bad, right?
So Disney and Walden Media stuck to their guns with the follow up, and I dare say I enjoyed this a lot more than the first installment. In fact, I like it so much, I'd consider buying the DVD too. As a movie, it had plenty of thrilling and intense moments which left me at the edge of my seat. It joins the ranks of sequels being better than their first installment, and the action here trounces its predecessor hands down. There are some really nicely crafted set action pieces like the night raid, the one on one battle and finale as well with a twist you'd never seen coming (except perhaps when you've read the book? I'm speculating here of course, since I haven't read it) to spice things up from the usual bore, though there are still some elements which seem repeated, like the countless of horse rides for flight from enemies, and can someone mention Ents? But don't let these minor issues detract and distract you, because you can't scream "plagiarism" if it's already there in the book.
For those unfamiliar, the religious/Christian allegories are strong in Prince Caspian, and more so than in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I felt. Here, it's the second coming of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve at a time when the evils of mankind seem to be going out of hand, represented by the Telmarines. Also the notion that the Lord (Aslan) is always there for the asking. Though he's omni-present and consciously knows of atrocities, he will not step in unless he's genuinely ask to. The perennial seek and you shall find / be given unto you doesn't ring any clearer than the story here, with him showing himself only to the believers.
Taking place just a year after they left Narnia (which in Narnia time is about 1300 years since they've left), the Pevensie siblings - Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) get summoned back to Narnia and realize that things have drastically change since the last time they remembered it. The animals seemed edgier and have more angst, and their new guide for Narnia, the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) replaces the James McAvoy's fawn, filling in some quick history lessons for our quartet who return to Narnia in an age almost similar to the first time they set foot there. Summoning them is Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who's a ruler-in-waiting having to flee from his land because of an assassination plot, and teams up with summoned Kings and Queens to retake his homeland as well as to bring peace toward all.
Noble thoughts indeed, but not without its problems of course. A land cannot have too many kings (as we learn from Lord of the Rings), and while Edward knows of his place in the hierarchy of things, Peter the Magnificent surely felt Prince Caspian a threat, and both do not hit off really well, especially when their strategies of war appear to be in conflict. Nonetheless through their trials in the story, they will learn and realize lessons in humility, especially when they know they are subject to similar temptations of short cuts to absolute power and victory they crave. While this is more of a Peter story than an Edward one (Who had his fair share in the previous installment), William Moseley's performance as Peter do allow you to both hate and cheer for him as the story develops, while Skandar Keynes taking a backseat meant that he gets all the coolest moves as an action fighter.
Ben Barnes came across as a speaker with a Spanish accent, quite arrogant in the first place, at least until his benefactors arrive, whom he got acquainted with only through folk tales he learnt from his teacher. Although the titular character, it does seem that Caspian himself plays a supporting role to the quartet, given that we're more interested in their return and the change that they'll bring. However, if the Narnia movies were to proceed with another, then expect Barnes to play a larger role then. Anna Popplewell's Susan continues her role as the female archer, and doesn't really add much to the mythos, except perhaps for the fleeting romance and affection she develops for the good looking Caspian, while Georgie Henley's Lucy is a little bit grown up now, but still retaining that bit of innocence in her as the sole believer and seeker of Azlan, bearing all of Narnia's hopes on her lithe shoulders.
The special effects also took a great leap forward, improving upon the lacklustre hack job done in the earlier movie, and the talking animals, for once, I thought they didn't irritate (yes, talking animals get on my nerves, after so many movies exploiting this cheap trick to infuse into their plots). Shrek lovers will undoubtedly fall in love with a new character in the movie styled as a mouseketeer, erm, musketeer, and if I were a shrewd toy businessman, I'd stock up on this particular plush toy (seems like rats these days get lots of love!). To top it all off, there are some nicely put cameos which links back to the first movie, and having their share in some intense sequences, no less.
There are a lot of good things about Prince Caspian, and I'm happy to report that it builds on the original which served as a foundation on which better things are built upon, and thankfully, this sequel focused on its strengths instead of getting bogged by its weaknesses, and provided all round entertainment with what I would deem as a guilty pleasure. Highly recommended, especially to detractors of the first movie, this one is set to put the franchise on an even keel!