MOVIE REVIEW- Roughed up: ‘Caspian' not a must-sea-- er, see

a still from this week's filmThe wonder evoked by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been replaced by thunder in the second installment, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. The fantastic elements are taken for granted, so we can get down to the business of fighting. And fighting. And fighting. Once a playground, the kingdom of Narnia now resembles the yard of a rough, inner city school at recess.Steve WarrenThe second film presumes familiarity with the first, which is referenced but not in a way that will fill in the blanks for newcomers.

It's only one year later in London, where World War II is still raging, but more than 1300 years have passed in Narnia. The land has been taken over by the Telmarines, who speak with Italianesque accents, and the remnants of Narnian civilization have taken refuge in forest caves festooned with drawings of their English saviors and a shrine to the real hero, Aslan the lion.

In the opening scene, a child is born to evil King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), who murdered his brother to get the throne and is about to murder his nephew, Prince Caspian X (Ben Barnes), to ensure that his new son will succeed him. Caspian escapes into the forest and, when all seems lost, blows the horn that summons "the Kings and Queens of old" (the Pevensies) back to Narnia. This time their gateway is a London tube station, a bit more mundane than a wardrobe.

"Everything you know is about to change," Caspian is told by his mentor, Dr. Cornelius (Vincent Grass); and indeed the prince will later say, "Two days ago I didn't believe in talking animals and dwarves and centaurs."

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), and Ken Stott voices Trufflehunter the badger.

Tilda Swinton makes a welcome but too brief return as the White Witch. Two dwarves move front and center, Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin the Red Dwarf, and Warwick Davis as Nikabrik the Black Dwarf. (That the latter is less heroic makes one wonder if there's not a touch of racism in the color-coding; even his name is suspect.)

The English children, now aged 12-21, find a very different Narnia. Their old stomping grounds have become ruins. Trumpkin warns them, "You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember."

Indeed, after some early skirmishes, when the movie really gets going there's one big, senseless battle after another. A showdown in the royal bedchamber threatens to wrap things up in under 90 minutes, but Caspian wusses out and leaves King Miraz to fight another day in the movie's second half. Miraz and Peter fight mano-a-mano (well, swordo-a-swordo) to spare their armies, but of course the armies will fight too.

Despite the amount of violence, it's kept bloodless to qualify for a PG rating, which leaves some of the fighting rather inconclusive. People can fall 50 feet and walk away unscathed.

Barnes, formerly of the boy band Hyrise, is an unexceptional actor who was plucked for the star-making title role from the London stage where he was doing The History Boys. 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.

An early face wound makes Prince Caspian look like he has cold sores when the Pevensies arrive, but he heals in time for a mild flirtation with Susan– not enough that this can be considered a chick flick by any stretch of the imagination.

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.