The second movie installment in C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" series is both grittier and wilder than the first film and all-around more morally complex.
"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" takes place in Earth time a year after the events in the first film, but 1,300 years later in Narnia. In that one-year time span the four Pevensie siblings - Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) - have all undergone various personality changes as they enter adolescence.
In the 1,300 intervening years, Narnia has changed greatly. Some couple of hundred years after the Pevensie kings and queens left their thrones in Narnia, a race of men - descendents of pirates in our world called Telmarines - invaded the country and forced all magical Narnians into hiding.
The millennium in hiding has changed Narnians - the dryads have gone silent in their trees and some of the talking animals have become dumb. Former enemies under the reign of the White Witch are now united in their hatred for the Telmarines.
The film begins the night the reigning Telmarine, Lord Miraz (played brilliantly by Italian actor Sergio Castellitto) plots to have his nephew and true heir to the throne, Prince Caspian (newcomer Ben Barnes), assassinated to make the way clear for his own infant son.
Together with the Narnians, Caspian plots to take his throne back and to create a new Narnia, one where man and talking beast can live side-by-side in peace. To do that they need the help of the Pevensies who are magically brought back to Narnia.
The film departs from Lewis' original text much more so than the first movie, though most departures are generally to good effect.
The main result is to thicken the plot of what was a fairly slim novel into a 2-and-a-half hour movie.
The script's departures from Lewis' text are no more evident than with Peter and Caspian. In the film, Caspian is aged several years from a prepubescent boy to a teenager with authority issues. A rivalry between Caspian and Peter and a smaller flirtation between Caspian and Susan are manufactured in the film with interesting consequences.
The script also diverges from the book by bringing the Pevensie children to Narnia just as the Narnians are beginning their uprising against the Telmarines. All of the Pevensie children behave more like action heroes than they did in the first film, no more so than Susan who morphs into a warrior princess midway through the movie.
Lewis purists will likely object the strongest to a scene added by the filmmakers, in which Peter and Caspian consider bringing the White Witch (reprised briefly by Tilda Swinton) back from the dead to fight Miraz.
An entire new battle scene is added in the movie when Peter devises a plan to attack Miraz's castle.
The battle features, among other things, a great sneak attack by sky and many sad war deaths, which parents should likely prepare themselves to explain to young children.
On occasion, the film pushes the boundaries of its PG rating, squeaking by only by not dwelling on its many battle deaths.
Standout performances are turned in by Castellitto and Peter Dinklage, who plays the dwarf Trumpkin. Aslan (voiced again by Liam Neeson) has much less screen time in this movie, but his CGI character is much improved.
"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is rated PG for epic battle action and violence and has a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes.