Apart from a fantastic world filled with magical creatures, little about C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles Of Narnia series lends itself easily to film adaptations. His books are rich in kid-entrancing detail, but the action doesn't exactly burst off the page. Then there's the matter of translating the Christian themes without turning the stories into sermons. Still, Shrek co-director Andrew Adamson took a decent pass at The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, staying largely true to Lewis while keeping the film light on its feet. He pumped up the Lord Of The Rings-style action to beyond-Lewisian proportions, but that's the movie business.
Lion also benefited from the awe of the new, introducing the otherworldly kingdom of Narnia and the soul-jeopardizing morality plays that go hand-in-hand with its talking animals. Prince Caspian, the second book in the series (by publication date, not Narnian chronology) proves a tougher trick to pull off. Escaping from war-torn London, the four Pevensie children return to Narnia to find it devastated by an evil king and seemingly abandoned by Aslan, the messianic lion with Liam Neeson's voice. Slowly—oh, so slowly—they join forces with the fugitive Prince Caspian (stiff newcomer Ben Barnes), who's destined to stir the Narnians into rebellion against his oppressive uncle (Sergio Castellitto).
"You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember," Peter Dinklage's badass dwarf Trumpkin tells the kids. He's both right and wrong. Adamson's sequel is darker yet tamer than its predecessor. The film keeps some of Lewis' tough themes—the sacrilegious nature of totalitarianism, the difficulty of maintaining faith even with the apparent absence of God—but they stay safely at arm's length. Apart from one effective scene, the film lacks a villain as compelling as Tilda Swinton's White Witch, and the kids' performances, ranging from bland to milquetoast, don't help either. Nor does Adamson's reliance on endless busy, bloodless battle scenes. Never has war seemed so wholesome.
Ultimately, however, it's an absence of personality that does the film in. The creatures remain beautifully designed and Narnia still looks like a colorful, inviting place, but it feels as lifeless as the fantastical anyworlds found on glittery unicorn posters. The series doesn't get any easier to adapt from here. Unless the Narnia makers do a Harry Potter-style reassessment of how they approach the material, the next few years don't look so promising.