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Caspian battles mature themes
Ben Barnes is Prince Caspian, who joins forces with the Pevensie kids to battle the evil forces that have taken over Narnia.

Excuse me, have you seen a lion pass by here recently? He's about yay tall, looks like a symbolic savior?

The Pevensie kids returned to movie screens last week with the second installment in the series based on C.S. Lewis' beloved Narnia novels. While similar to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in many ways, "Prince Caspian" is more of an action blockbuster than a family movie.

In London time, a year has passed since Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) returned from Narnia. In the alternative world they once ruled, though, 1,300 years have passed.

Their once peaceful kingdom has fallen under the control of the Telmarines. Thanks to some royal intrigue reminiscent of the real English court, King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) has seized control of the empire and forced true heir to the throne Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) to flee.

Enter the Pevensies, who are summoned back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian and his new allies the Old Narnians defeat the Telmarines. Along the way, Aslan is painfully absent and Peter experiences a crisis in faith that places all Narnians at risk.

As Peter's struggle suggests, the Christian ideology underpinning the Narnia novels is more crucial to this sequel than it was to the first. Fans attracted to the films for that reason should be satisfied that the filmmakers aren't shying away from Lewis' original intentions.

However, "Prince Caspian" is a much darker film than "Wardrobe." Narnia 1 didn't show the children actually taking lives. This time around, the adolescent children kill bad guys. A lot of them. This is a tad disturbing, but the series seems to be following a trajectory similar to the Harry Potter series: as the children mature, the violence and visuals become more adult as well.

The filmmakers carefully conceal gore of any kind during the battle scenes, which is a wise decision. Throw in some visible blood, and this family movie would look alarmingly similar to "Braveheart."

That issue aside, though, the battle scenes at its core are the film's strongest scenes. "Wardrobe" evoked wonder at the extraordinary world of Narnia. We could easily identify with those four kids discovering places and creatures that seemed to emerge from imagination.

"Prince Caspian" tries its best for the same effect but falls short. True, this is due partly to the magical creatures of Narnia being suppressed by the Telmarines. But the beginning and end of this film are filled with tedious "hero shots." You know, the kids gazing majestically into the distance whilst the music swells, whilst we wish they would just get on with the story.

And speaking of pretty but vacant, Barnes is definitely a handsome young man capable of looking like the heir to a legendary throne, but he is a dreadful actor. Listening to his strained attempt at a Caspian accent - which sounds part Italian, part Persian - is a bit like Gomer Pyle performing Hamlet. The film becomes infinitely more enjoyable when they put the prince on a horse and let his looks do the talking.

In fact, the whole picture doesn't really take off until everybody shuts their mouths and begins to battle it out. C.S. Lewis' message is still made loud and clear, but in "Prince Caspian," the action sequences save the whole affair.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.