There is again a lion -- Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), ever so briefly, near the end -- and a witch (Tilda Swinton returns, for no good reason, taking up about three minutes of screen time), but no wardrobe. This time the four Pevensie kids -- Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy -- are transported from London to Narnia when Narnia's rightful leader, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, looking like a younger, sleeker Kyle MacLachlan), flees his home upon learning that his wicked Uncle Miraz (Sergio Castelitto) has sent men to make a pincushion out of him with arrows.
How exactly do they get there? Oh, you know... a Tube station, a ram's horn, a great wind, disappearing walls ... magic! And voil & agrave;, they pop out onto a gorgeous beach, frolic for a bit, then find out that although only a year has passed since they left Narnia, many hundreds of years have gone by there, and much of the place is in ruins.
It doesn't take long for them to meet up with Caspian, who blew the horn that summoned them, and only a little longer for some ambitious storytelling to get underway. A couple of dwarfs (Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis) and a badger (voice of Ken Stott) join with Caspian; the kids hope to find King Aslan; all of the good guys get together with the Narnians, who are the sworn enemies of the bad-guy Telmarines. Yes, Caspian is a Telmarine, but he's not like the others.
This is an epic fantasy adventure, taking place on land, underwater and, with the inclusion of some friendly high-flying gryphons, in the air. Because this all happens in Narnia, those birdlike creatures are joined by a cadre of other mythical ones, including minotaurs and centaurs, as well as your standard sword-fighting mice. But no matter how fantastical things get, the filmmakers have managed to keep a sheen of reality glistening throughout the film. Sword-fighting mice? Why not?
Even when gryphons aren't carrying our heroes into and out of danger, director Andrew Adamson likes to shoot major action sequences from way above, as much as he likes to have cameras chasing after the smallest animals on the ground, right down at their shoulder level.
A note to parents who feel that their kids are on the delicate side: Although the film is violent and there's a fairly high body count of both good and bad guys, the weapons are swords, arrows, and axes -- no guns -- and most of the carnage is done off-camera. But there is one sequence of a battle-gone-wrong in which it's implied that there's going to be some big-time slaughter.
The story gets around to being about the Pevensies returning to Narnia with a heck of a reputation to live up to, at least after what they did there all those years ago. The Narnians grow to love them; the Telmarines (except for Caspian) would love to knock them off. But it's more focused on the hate-hate relationship between the nephew and the uncle (who is so evil, he would have his own men killed in order to blame the deed on the Narnians). On a wider scale, it's about lust for power, desire for freedom and an almost uncontrollable urge for revenge.
Three items might have been better explained: the reason a bridge is being built across a river and why it needs to be destroyed; how the archer Susan's quiver always seems to refill itself with red-feathered arrows; where a watery creature that resembles the WWE's Triple H comes from.
But because Caspian's two and a half hours move along so quickly, it's difficult to stop and wonder about these things -- better to just accept them. Anyway, before you know it, things are sorted out, and our young heroes are once again back in dreary London, most likely wondering when they'll again be summoned to Narnia.
All they have to do is look it up on the Internet. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is scheduled for release on May 7, 2010.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Starring Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell