“Things never happen the same way twice.”
That's what Aslan, the mighty lion king of Narnia, says to Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie siblings, when they are reunited in Prince Caspian—the second big screen fantasy based on C.S. Lewis' beloved book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. But for better or worse, those words could also apply to the film itself, which falls a bit short of matching the emotional power of its $745 million-grossing predecessor, 2005's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe may have been based on a children's book and told through the eyes of a child—specifically, young Lucy Pevensie—but it was still a periodically violent fantasy that was filled with biblical allegories. The returning filmmakers—director Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—take Prince Caspian into much darker territory, but at least it makes sense, since the kids are a little older and more mature this time around.
But like the book it's based on, the story lacks a driving narrative, and the characters aren't as fully defined as they were before. As the Pevensies came of age in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they each learned some powerful lessons—especially Edmond, who almost betrayed his siblings. They're all on the same page this time around, and that reduces the level of tension within the film. It doesn't help that Prince Caspian never grows into a fully commanding figure, while the evil King Miraz isn't nearly as menacing as the White Witch played by Tilda Swinton.
It's still a very entertaining film, although newcomers would be wise to check out “Wardrobe” if they want to better understand “Caspian.” And even though it isn't as rewarding as its predecessor, it still stands out from other recent fantasies like Stardust, The Golden Compass and The Spiderwick Chronicles. As Aslan himself said, things may never happen the same way twice, but at least there's hope for the third film, which might be the charm.