Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is in trouble. His aunt has just given birth to a son tonight, meaning his claim to the throne is weaker than the infant's - so unsteady, in fact, that he is forced to flee his bedchamber in the middle of the night when roused by his tutor Cornelius (Vincent Grass), thereby escaping the soldiers who burst in a few short seconds later and fire crossbow bolts into the bed, thinking they are killing him. But he has got away, and rushes from the castle on horseback with the King's men in hot pursuit; reaching a clearing in the forest, he encounters two fierce dwarves, then makes the only choice available: he blows his horn.
The reason he does that is to summon the four monarchs of Narnia who have long since disappeared from the land, and they happen to be the four kids we saw in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the first entry in this series of Disney adaptations of C.S. Lewis's famed run of fantasy novels. Disney had come a long way from the likes of The Absent-Minded Professor and The Love Bug in their live action movies, as far as this series went at any rate, and there was a definite sense of the corporation drawing itself up to its full height here and announcing to the world that it was fully capable of making Important Works of Literary Classics.
When Aslan finally appears, he tells little Lucy (Georgie Henley) that "Things never happen the same way twice" but there are a number of similarities between this and the previous film as it has much the same tone, the same sense of worthiness, and the battle scenes that could have come from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a comparison you imagine that the filmmakers are only too happy to court. Certainly there are almost equal levels of walking about as there are in the Tolkein epics, but somehow director Andrew Adamson manages to miss the same daunting scale, perhaps because of his insistence on beefing up the original stories with action.
However, while The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was a rather stuffy affair for all its visual splendour, it seems as though everyone has a better idea of how to handle the material this time around, and it does not feel as long as its predecessor. The shots at leavening the serious nature with humour are variable but thankfully do not betray the source with crudeness: Lucy complaining that everyone is trying to act grown up being met with a muttered response from dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage on fine form as usual) that he is grown up is the nicest gag.
What the previous film had that this does not is a strong villain, and Tilda Swinton's brief reprise of the White Witch provides a shiver that the less charismatic King Miraz (Sergio Castelitto) does not. One the other hand, the effects are equally as slick, with the battling mice resembling Stuart Little on steroids, and Aslan, as before, remains a marvellous creation. Some of the makeup choices are a little odd, mind you, with the centaurs and minotaurs looking decidedly strange from the waist up (maybe it's the ears). If the story tends towards the one-note, then at least there is an epic sweep to the proceedings that can make you forgive the way that everyone either fits into comic or earnest personality categories, and the warning that war should make the combatants careful of who they ally themselves with if they are going to resort violence is lightly but satisfyingly handled. What this series really needed was a bit of quirk, a necessary spark of eccentricity to make these tales truly come alive, though with a huge budget at stake, it's unsurprising that it does not. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.