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Solid sequel

Second Narnia film features good action and exciting special effects.

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Movies based on books should always tell their stories without the presumption that all audience members have read the book that inspired it. That’s one of the few problems with Prince Caspian, the second Narnia film from director Andrew Adamson and a worthy follow-up to his hugely successful and artful The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, released in 2005. Especially in the beginning of Prince Caspian, there is a bit of sloughing over the details of C.S. Lewis’ story, which may confuse those who have never read the original material or seen The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter all that much, as one is quickly caught up in several interlocking plot points — all focused on some pretty basic, universal themes of good vs. evil and right triumphing over wrong.

The four young actors — who have aged somewhat less obviously than might be expected, given the lapse of three years — reprise their roles as the Pevensie siblings. Georgie Henley (Lucy), 12 when she shot this, Skandar Keynes (Edmund), 16, Anna Popplewell (Susan), 19, and William Moseley (Peter), 21, all return and infuse their characters with the same sensibilities they had in the first movie.

Henley’s Lucy is the joyous, inquisitive one — most entranced with the god-like lion Aslan. Keynes’ Edmund still has a subtle comedic twist. Popplewell’s Queen Susan is always practical and focused. And Moseley does a nice job of capturing the brooding qualities key to the character of Peter, the High King of Narnia, who can often let his arrogance and feelings of superiority get the better of him.

In a fairly brief opening sequence in a World War II-era London subway station near Trafalgar Square (which did make my mind flash briefly to the iconic Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter films), the Pevensies are magically transported back through a portal into the world of Narnia, but one far different from the one they last left.

Thirteen hundred years have passed since the Pevensies departed Narnia, where they ruled as virtually mythical kings and queens. The Telmarine people, led by a series of prejudiced and superstitious monarchs, have overrun and captured Narnia as their own — driving the unusual assemblage of Narnian creatures deep into the forest, where only a few descendants of their proud ancestors once ruled by Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter still exist.

The Pevensies find their beloved Cair Paravel fortress is in ruins, the Narnian race is almost extinct, and Aslan has not been seen in more than 1,000 years. In fact, many Telmarines have come to believe that the stories about the Narnians are mere mythology — a lovely underlying fable that adds a sweet level of richness (and irony) to a tale that is pure fantasy in the first place!

We quickly discover that it was the bellowing blast from Susan’s horn blown by young Prince Caspian that summons the four Pevensies back to Narnia. Caspian (played nicely by newcomer Ben Barnes) is the rightful heir to the throne of Telmarine — a throne recently left vacant by his late father’s untimely death, revealed to be the handiwork of Caspian’s uncle, the evil Lord Miraz, who covets that throne and the supreme power that goes with it.

Miraz is played with a malevolent zeal — of Shakespearean proportions reminiscent of Macbeth — by the talented Italian actor Sergio Castellitto. On the night his wife gives birth to their son, Miraz puts into action a vicious plot to kill Caspian and seize the throne for himself. Thanks only to the midnight warning by Caspian’s loyal tutor Dr. Cornelius (Vincent Grass), Caspian escapes, but with Miraz’s henchmen in hot pursuit.

Only in the Narnian forest, aided by Susan’s horn, is Caspian able to put the remainder of this tale of adventure and action into play. As he did in the first film, Adamson again has solidly married live action with computer-generated wizardry to provide us with a believable world inhabited by humans, talking animals, centaurs, minotaurs and amazing winged flying beasts.

As is always key in these kinds of films, comic relief is provided, this time by the quick-tongued, swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep (voiced by the always delightful Eddie Izzard). Similar duty is served by Scottish actor Ken Stott, who gives voice to the film’s talking badger, Trufflehunter.

The action sequences — primarily battle scenes — are extremely impressive, though I was somewhat disappointed by the main climactic scene, which I won’t spoil by revealing here. My lack of enthusiasm stems from the repetitiveness of the early stages of that fight, which begins after the one-on-one combat between Caspian and his hated Uncle Miraz. As Caspian quickly realizes he must depend on the Narnians to claim his throne, and in exchange return their land to them, thrilling scenes showcase the natural competitiveness between Caspian and Moseley’s King Peter.

Though occasionally the main characters slip into phraseology that sounds too contemporary, Prince Caspian largely works and keeps our escape into fantasy intact. It’s a solid sequel, though at times a bit repetitive. A good 15 minutes could have been trimmed and made the picture tighter all the way around.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Three stars

Stars: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell

Director: Andrew Adamson

Rated: PG for epic battle action and violence

Theaters: AMC Narrows Plaza 8, Century Olympia, Galaxy Uptown Theatre, Galaxy Uptown Theatre VIP, Lakewood Cinema 15, Lakewood Towne Center 12, Regal Martin Village 16, Regal South Hill 6 Yelm Cinemas @ Prairie Park

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