Perhaps I spoke too soon. No sooner do I write an article for this Web site singing the praises of Walden Entertainment for soft-pedaling the lion-as-Christ metaphor in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” — despite the fact that the production company is owned by a Christian conservative billionaire with an agenda to make “moral” movies — than the company gives us the latest “Narnia” saga, “Prince Caspian,” in which that metaphor is ladled on all too directly.
But if you can plod through the without-faith-you-are-nothing stuff, to say nothing of the crush-the-swarthy-infidels message (more on that later), “Prince Caspian” is a rousingly entertaining adventure that children and adults will enjoy in equal measure.
The film begins in WWII-era London, where the four Pevensie children — Peter (William Moseley, still looking like a cross between Heath Ledger and Scarlett Johansson), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley, the only one who appears to have done any growing since “Wardrobe”) — have lived for a year since their prior adventures in Narnia. Chafing at their dreary surroundings, the foursome is thrilled when they are summoned back to the magical kingdom by the horn that Susan received in the first film.
The horn blower is one Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who has been marked for his death by his uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), whose wife has just produced a male heir whose line to the throne is blocked by young Caspian. The prince runs into the neighboring enchanted woods and encounters elf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) and various others who have been in hiding ever since Caspian’s ancestors committed genocide against Narnia. With the help of the Pevensies and the remaining Narnians, Caspian hopes to regain his throne and unite the two nations.
But where is the noble lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson)? Young Lucy swears she has seen him, but the others don’t believe her, and one failed battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines (Caspian’s people) seems to indicate that the good guys are ultimately helpless without their, er, messiah to give them a little lion-ex-machina action.
The Aslan business muddies the water here, for me anyway, as does the fact that all the heroes have British accents while the Telmarines are all decidedly Mediterranean in appearance and inflection. (Because the Brits, after all, do love to demonize the Spanish whenever they can.) Given how volatile the subjects of war, ethnicity, religion and politics are these days, “Prince Caspian” flirts with delving into areas that might put off some parents, but if you can work your way around the film’s subtext, it’s an exhilarating adventure piece.
While Barnes doesn’t have the charisma to be the focal point of the film, the young actors playing the Pevensies continue to be just perfect for the material, with the valuable addition of the always terrific Dinklage to the cast. Castellitto — familiar to fans of foreign film — makes for a great villain as well.
You’ll have a great time at “Prince Caspian.” Just be prepared to ignore some of its not-so-subtle implications if your interest in author C.S. Lewis stems from his writing and not from his spirituality.