The Pevensie children are back in London and contemporary life seems pale and uninvolving compared to their adventures in the magical land of Narnia. As they wait for the Tube, a wall opens up and just as happened when they went through the wardrobe, they stand before the entryway to Narnia again. This time, they know immediately where they are. What they don’t know is when they are. Everything is different. “I don’t remember any ruins in Narnia,” one says. Lucy (Georgie Henley) confidently approaches a bear, introducing herself as though she was inviting him to tea. But he growls and charges. “I don’t think he could talk at all,” she says with surprise. “If treated like a wild animal long enough, that’s what you become,” explains Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage in heavy gnomish make-up). “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.”
“Everything you know is about to change,” says one character and that serves as a warning and a prediction that applies to all of the great adventures before the Pevensies — the battle for Narnia, the challenges of growing up, and the struggles of leadership, faith, and principle.
As the Pevensies explore, they find that 1300 years have passed in Narnia since they helped Aslan the lion (voice of Liam Neeson) defeat the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) and end the tyranny of Narnia’s perpetual winter. It is summer, but there is no peace and prosperity in Narnia. The nearby Telmarines have done their best to wipe out all of Narnia. Those creatures who are left are in hiding, without a leader. Aslan, who seemed the answer to all questions in their first visit may have been glimpsed by Lucy, but the others are not willing to believe her. And they meet up with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the rightful heir to the throne of the Telemarines, usurped by his evil uncle. Wary of each other at first, Caspian and the Pevensies join forces to battle for the freedom of the Narnians.
Like the first film, this is a grand and visually stunning epic with thrilling battle scenes and powerful themes. This one has more violence but also more humor, especially from the most welcome new character, a mouse with the heart of a lion and the voice of Eddie Izzard. Like the book, one of the less compelling of the seven-volume series, it is not as involving as the first. Barnes has a nice screen presence (though his accent sounds like he is trying out for a road show version of “West Side Story” as one of the Sharks). The pacing is strong, the effects are superb, and the battles are exciting. The themes are presented with a subtlety that encourages thoughtful consideration, with a range of possible interpretations.
Don’t let the PG rating fool you. This is a long, intense, violent epic with the deaths of both good guys and bad guys, and it is not suitable for young children. The earlier film had some difficult and troubling material, including the shearing and apparent death of Aslan and the emotional corruption of one of the Pevensie children by the White Witch. But this one has a childbirth scene (with the mother in evident distress) and a retreat from battle that involves the loss of Narnians that is the fault of one of the Pevensies. The disturbing material may be darker than the first for some viewers.
Parents should know that this movie has very intense and explicit battle violence for a PG film, including arrows, crossbows, catapults, swords, knives, and various kinds of mayhem. Characters are injured and killed (including some of the good guys), including a beheading. There are some scary-looking monsters and some tense and menacing confrontations. The movie opens with a childbirth scene that shows the mother in considerable distress.
Families who see this movie should talk about why only Lucy saw Aslan. Why did he say (twice) that things never happen the same way twice? Why doesn’t he help them sooner?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and the books by C.S. Lewis. Older viewers will enjoy Shadowlands, based on the real-life love story between Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) and American writer Joy Gresham. The British version of the story is also excellent.