Woe is Narnia — a land of fake soundstages and awkwardly lurching CGI creatures that has, in Prince Caspian, been overrun by hammy humans with accents like Antonio Banderas on speed.
Telmarines, as they’re called, have indistinct Mediterranean dialects that require press notes to dub as “Spanish” (although they’re mostly played by Brits and Italians). Except for the Caesar look on King Miraz, they have the same hair, and all are given to spastic spit-riddled speeches. They also wiped out nearly everything in Narnia when they invaded years ago — including hard “R” sounds.
As speech, the “R” in Narnia dies in Telmarine mouths. As part of the MPAA system, it begins a discomforting creep through Caspian into a supposedly Christian, child-aiming franchise. It’s so noticeable that its PG rating seems based only on C.S. Lewis’s more-allegorical source material.
Resembling a Little Golden Book of Gladiator, it’s a PG film with R-rated aspirations — mostly bloodless but barbaric and violent enough to show teens gutting people and mice slitting throats. Its battle sequences rival anything from The Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean in intensity. Worse yet, this second of four threatened Narnia films makes even the most dizzying details of those series welcome by comparison.
Prince Caspian is more wearisome than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — drained of any magic or emotion by a pace as herky-jerky as Narnia’s many Minotaurs.
A Narnian adventure ending with their coronation as kings and queens was but an Earth year ago for the Pevensie kids — older Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) and younger Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Hensley). But that’s 1,300 Narnian years, during which King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) banished Narnia’s fauna and trashed its temples.
The rightful king of Narnia, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is proof not all Telmarines are tyrants. He’s a kind teenaged nephew to Miraz, who’s been king since the death of Caspian’s father. (Hmm.) Barnes’ heartthrob mixology is equal parts Christian Bale, Orlando Bloom and Keanu Reeves, and he has princely presence but would acquit himself better without that ridiculous accent.
Caspian is targeted for death once Miraz sires a son, and Caspian summons the Pevensies back to Narnia after blowing a magical horn in the midst of escape. Naturally, the Narnians are curmudgeonly toward outsiders promising help, so dwarves (Peter Dinklage’s Trumpkin) and mice (Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep) will need persuasion to rise up in battle against Miraz.
Plus, with lion mentor / Christ figure Aslan nowhere around, the young Pevensies aren’t certain they’ll succeed. On occasion, the film manages not to mangle charming coming-of-age metaphors.
For this go-round, Liam Neeson seems to have voiced Aslan between latte sips. At one point, he utters, “Things don’t happen the same way twice.” True that. Caspian has had more money thrown its way, but none of what little momentum Wardrobe had to start with.
Poorly edited and with an overly orchestrated score, Caspian’s first 90 minutes feel like an endless series of visited tombs and ruins. Each packs as much wallop as going home to find out the Dairy Queen’s been bulldozed. It then suddenly erupts in a cacophonous hour-long conclusion that becomes a sprawling mess of un-special effects (that man made of water sure looks like Gandalf), what seems like five endings and one amusing anecdote (call Narnia for immaculately cut sod).
Caspian also lacks a villain as magnetic as Tilda Swinton’s White Witch from Wardrobe, dropping in here for a heartbreaking tease. Castellitto plays Miraz as a stereotypical marble-mouthed megalomaniac, looking more like a Rowan Atkinson caricature than a king to be feared.
Instead, its best characters are those restricted by height from boarding a theme-park ride the film is bound to sire. Dinklage brings unwavering weight to Trumpkin, a stringy-haired cynic who never goes soft. Izzard is zestfully funny as Reepicheep’s voice, even if he’s an animal kingdom opposite to Puss in Boots from Shrek 2 (also directed by Caspian director Andrew Adamson). And Henley plays the only Pevensie showing any sense of wonder at the mere existence of Narnia.
Then again, Henley is 12, and the only thing anyone in the audience older than her can hope for is that Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell have been hard at work on a viral-video follow-up to “Lazy Sunday.” Sequelizing that Narnian name-dropping rap is bound to yield better results than this.