The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, Eddie Izzard, Liam Neeson, Sergio Castellitto, Warwick Davis

Directed by: Andrew Adamson

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian

When The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the first instalment of the Chronicles of Narnia, proved a resounding box office success, it was inevitable that the next in CS Lewis's series, Prince Caspian, would follow suit.

A year has passed since the four Pevensie children re-emerged from the wardrobe and came back to reality with a bump, to find themselves, irksomely, treated like kids instead of royalty. Fortunately for them, Narnia needs them – Narnia 1,300 years on, that is, now under the iron thumb of an invading race of Spanish brigands known as the Telmarine.

Yup, the war chariots and pagan rites of the first film have made way for the 16th century steel bonnets of the Conquistadors, while the Narnians, hounded almost to extinction, cower like beleagured Incas in the Macchu Picchu-style ruins of Caer Paravel.

This episode's boo-hiss baddy is the oily, pointy bearded Miras (Sergio Castellitto), the uncle of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, upping the underage totty count considerably). This devious despot wants to do away with his virtuous, floppy-haired nephew and rule the kingdom himself. With the help of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (aka the 'kings and queens of old') and a delightfully ill-assorted troop of badgers, mice, wolves, tigers, dwarves, minotaurs, centaurs and other cute CGI critters, can our hero set things right?

Well, unlike with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, you may not know the answer to that – but you can probably make an educated guess. In fact, the trouble with this film is that the book it's based on is considerably more flimsy than its prequel, which means that, for the first forty minutes or so, nothing very much happens. It's only when the screenplay takes us off CS Lewis's plot, with a disastrous raid on the Telmarine castle, that things begin to get interesting, and from then on its fantasy battle action 'til the credits roll. Hooray!

Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) comes to Prince Caspian's rescue

Because this where the film excels: with beautifully crafted set pieces that are exciting, involving, fully of exquisite detail and really rather cute. True, a lot of it (walking trees, epic armies clashing, water that fights back) we've seen before in The Lord of the Rings films, but it still looks great.

Like the Pevensies, the film has also grown up a bit – no more hide and seek, Father Christmas or jam eating beavers here (although we do get a squadron of rapier-wielding mice, with a leader voiced by Eddie Izzard). Instead we have Peter (William Moseley) struggling to assert his authority as High King and the warmongering Susan (Anna Popplewell) making eyes at Caspian.

I wouldn't, however, say that Prince Caspian is darker than The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – there's nothing to equal the disturbing sacrifice of Aslan in the first film, and despite a fine scenery-chewing turn from Sergio Castellitto, Miras is simply not in the same scary league as Tilda Swinton's glacial White Witch.

As a franchise, The Chronicles of Narnia seem unlikely ever to rival the epic sweep of The Lord of the Rings or the intrigue and imaginative flair of those British acting master classes that are the Harry Potter films. But as long as there's a market for derring do and cute creatures and a desire to see good triumph over evil, there'll always be spare room for Narnia.

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