Wednesday, December 09, 2009

“So you're bravely refusing to fight a swordsman half your age?”

2008 saw the return of the Chronicles of Narnia, with Prince Caspian, the next story in the lives of the Pevensie kids. Slightly older and a lot more interested in raising the stakes, the movie was either praised or criticized as a departure from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So where does RMWC stand? Read on, gentle visitor, read on…

Though the Pevensie kids have only been gone from Narnia for about one Earth year, two thousand or so Narnia years have passed, and the neighborhood’s changed. A group of humans descended from pirates who’ve got a bit of a Spanish flair have somehow managed to wander into Narnia and conquered a huge chunk of it. Calling themselves the Telmarines, they’re very much interested in internecine political maneuvering, backstabbing and making sure the local Narnians are good and dead. The rightful heir of the Telmarines, Caspian, is forced to flee for his life when his wicked uncle’s not particularly wicked wife gives birth to a son, meaning Caspian’s got no protection at court. His old tutor gives him some equipment, including an ancient horn that is supposed to summon the heroes of yore. As the prince flees, he gets injured, blows the horn and gets rescued by some Narnians.

The horn blast eventually catches up with the Pevensie kids in a London Underground station and sucks them back to Narnia, where they find that things have changed a lot and are trying to adjust to/do something about the new status quo. Eventually meeting up with Caspian’s growing rebellion, the Pevensies are swept up in not just a Telmarine dynastic dispute, but also a battle against the extinction of the mythological Narnians themselves.

Peter Pevensie: William Mosely is back as the eldest Pevensie, and you know, that stuff I said about him being kind of a jerk in the last movie? Peter’s gotten worse. Now’s he’s picking fights in the London Underground with little provocation. When they get back to Narnia, he gets even worse. First, and this isn’t that bad, he immediately resumes his title and attitude as “High King Peter” and automatically demands that every Narnian he meets acknowledges this, despite the several hundred years having passed and a new generation of Narnians going “So you’re the High King? Prove it.” And prove it he does, by pigheadedly leading his army into an ambush and a costly defeat, then displaying his rather lacking swordsmanship in a duel to the death, and then leading his army into another battle that is a lot like the one from the first movie: a sure defeat without intervention from a more capable ally. In this movie, Peter’s a really unlikable dick.

Susan Pevensie: Anna Popplewell is back as the smart Pevensie, and this time around, she’s starting to discover boys. A Telmarine boy, to be specific. She’s fine as a character and gets some fun development as the whole awkward young crushes thing happens.

Lucy Pevensie: Georgie Henley is back as the cute Pevensie. She’s the one keeping the faith for Aslan’s return in this movie, though there are moments where it seems like the character is less “keeping the faith” and more “traveling to Cloudkookooland.”

Edmund Pevensie: Skandar “Future Viking” Keynes returns as Edmund, and Edmund is awesome in this film. The events of the last movie have sorted him out and here, he’s shown as a better swordsman than Peter, a skilled diplomat, and well prepared for any eventuality (which usually means pulling Peter’s fat out of the fire). In this movie, Edmund is the competent one, and that makes him the runner-up of badass.

Prince Caspian: Ben Barnes is the Telmarine Prince on the run, and despite having a fairly weak Spanish accent, does a pretty good job of things. His arc is all about finding the Narnians, coming to grips with them and eventually coexisting with them as he tries to take his rightful throne. He’s definitely the prime mover of the movie, and you know, he’s likable. He’s also more than willing to call Peter out on his bullshit.

King Miraz: Sergio Castellitto is a great villain as the duplicitous and weasely Miraz. See, he can’t really make a move on the throne without an heir. Basically, Caspian’s got the poison, but then the King has the remedy when his wife gives birth to a son. Complicated and amoral, Miraz uses Caspian’s disappearance as a pretext for going to war against the remaining Narnians. Miraz also has a fantastically treacherous support staff of nobles and generals that are constantly giving each other meaningful glances behind his back as he prepares to make his final move for power. Its obvious that they hate their boss, and they’ve got some real personality.

Now, a brief aside on the Telmarines themselves. I really liked them. They were great mooks that combined a Roman Imperial and Spanish Conquistador look and really just seemed like regular guys in snappy uniforms. They’re also pretty industrious, like the Romans, and are capable of not only building an impressive wooden bridge in a hurry, but also developing rapid fire trebuchets. As far as mooks go, its easy to sympathize with them, and almost admire them too, if not for the whole “stamp out mysticism/mythology with the monochrome boot of industry” thing.

Trumpkin & Nikabrik: Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis respectively play two dwarves buddies that get separated by the events of the beginning. Trumpkin gets rescued from some Telmarines by the Pevensies and becomes their deadpan, begrudging guide with some great lines. Nikabrik meets up with Prince Caspian and really resents the Telmarine (actually, he’s really just resentful of everything)

Aslan: Liam Neeson is back as the voice of the allegorical Christ Figure, but isn’t in it much.

The White Witch: Tilda Swinton returns for a very brief, but very creepy scene where Caspian is tempted to turn to her power to defeat his enemies.

Reepicheep: And now, the badass-est for last. Edgy, occasionally dress wearing comedian Eddie Izzard voices the chivalrous and psychopathic warrior mouse who kills more people in single combat than just about anybody else. Seriously, he’s awesome as he makes fun of the Telmarines for having no imagination in their reactions to seeing him, right before he slits their throats.

Andrew Adamson is back in the director’s chair, and the movie has a much surer footing than the last one. Visually, the pacing is much improved and the tone is murkier. The stakes are clear from the very beginning, and while the movie never forgets the whimsy that marked the first movie, it goes for a darker visual look that fits the scheming politics that undercut the movie.

Visually, the land of Narnia still brings a lot of wonder and whimsy. The CGI animal characters are much improved, and the centaurs & fauns are still greatly realized, and this time around Minotaurs also get some great screen time. Battles are eye catching and the action is generally improved over the first installment.

Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely seem more comfortable with tinkering with C.S. Lewis’ work this time. I understand a little bit more has been changed from the book to film transition, which I’ll admit is probably necessary since they are two different storytelling mediums. It worked for Lord of the Rings.

Harry Gregson-Williams returns to the soundtrack, composing another great score and also voicing a squirrel in the movie.That's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

I liked Prince Caspian quite a bit more than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It just feels like a more polished product with the cast and crew more comfortable with the fictional universe being created. Making a sequel darker than its previous installment doesn’t always work, but considering the nature of the story here, I’d say that it does. Its going to be interesting to see what happens with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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