By Steve Warren – Contributing Film Critic

The wardrobe is gone.
The White Witch is dead.
And Narnia is bloody violent

EVIL QUEEN: You’ll only get a glimpse of Tilda Swinton as the White Witch.

The wonder evoked by "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" has been replaced by thunder in the second Chronicle, which is darker, more violent and less magical. The fantastic elements are taken for granted to get down more quickly to the business of fighting. And fighting. And fighting. After some early skirmishes there’s one big, senseless battle after another.

Not all was peaceful in the first film but the warfare was offset by a sense of discovery as the Pevensie children — Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) — made the magical journey to Narnia and explored its mysteries before becoming its rulers.

It’s one year later in London but more than 1,300 years have passed in Narnia. Telmarines have taken over the land and the remnants of Narnian civilization inhabit forest caves.

Evil King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) murdered his brother to take the throne and tries to murder his nephew, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), to keep it in his family. Caspian escapes and summons "the Kings and Queens of old" (the Pevensies) back to Narnia.

There are different talking animals, dwarves and centaurs this time around. James McAvoy’s Faun is missed but Liam Neeson voices Aslan again when he makes his climactic appearance. Eddie Izzard speaks for Reepicheep, a mouse with an attitude not unlike Puss in Boots in the "Shrek" sequels (the films share director Andrew Adamson). Tilda Swinton makes a welcome but too brief return as the White Witch.

Barnes, formerly of the boy band Hyrise, is an unexceptional actor who was plucked from the London stage, where he was doing "The History Boys," for the starmaking title role. You gotta love the movies when they go to so much trouble to find an English actor, then make him speak with a "Mediterranean" accent.

Aslan, who obviously doesn’t see many sequels, tells Lucy, "Things never happen the same way twice." In this case he’s right. "Prince Caspian" is darker, more violent and less magical than "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," presuming the audience has grown up a bit in the interim.

When I was a boy galloping horses and clanging swords went a long way toward giving me a good time at the movies. Youngsters who are still at that point will love "Prince Caspian," but those of us who demand a little more will find very little more.

C+ Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes
Opens: May 16 in wide release.
2 hrs. 20 min. PG

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 16, 2008.

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