Director Andrew Adamson, who helmed the first installment in the series, after making his career primarily in animation (including the original "Shrek") seems decidedly more comfortable in his role as a live action director this time around, and he handles the scope and the pacing of this epic adventure with a polished skill that is a very pleasant surprise. In addition, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell, returning as the Pevensie children, have matured, not only physically, but in their acting ability. There is a deftness and self assuredness this time around that surpasses the original, and makes for an extremely entertaining film.
The story begins with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), nephew of Miraz (Sergio Castellito), the leader of the "Telmarines," the human population that is now the dominant race in Narnia, fleeing for his life when Miraz's wife gives birth to a son. Miraz usurped the throne from the rightful King, Caspian's father, and now that he has an heir of his own, he wants Caspian out of the way for good.
Meanwhile, back in London, Peter and his siblings are trying to adjust to life in the real world. Peter is getting into fights because he can't bear people "treating him like a kid," after growing to adulthood before leaving Narnia, only to return at the exact age he was when he first stepped through the wardrobe. But in less time than it takes to board the London underground, the Pevensie's are once again transported back to the magical kingdom - only it is not the place they left. Over a thousand years have passed, and the castle of Cair Paravel lies in ruins.
As the children struggle to find out what has happened, they stumble upon a Dwarf named Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), who is being taken prisoner by abusive Telmarine soldiers. Susan, who doesn't seem to have had much opportunity to show off her finely honed archery skills at home in Finchley, eagerly takes the opportunity to rescue Trumpkin from his captors, and the surly old dwarf (whom Lucy and Edmund nickname "The D.L.F.", or "Dear Little Friend,") explains that all is not well in Narnia. It seems that not long after the High King Peter and his siblings left Narnia, the land was plunged into a dark age, and the Telmarines have ruled for hundreds of years with an iron fist. The days of the many creatures, including talking beasts, living in harmony together, have long since passed, and no one has seen or heard of Aslan the Lion in centuries. And what's more, the trees are no longer friends to the Narnians - they are just normal, everyday trees.
It doesn't take long before the children meet up with Caspain, who is hiding out in the forest with a misfit band of followers, and soon the young would be heroes join forces in a plot to reclaim Narnia for the Narnians, and place Caspian, the rightful heir, on the throne.
The film moves along at a steady, exciting pace, with skillfully staged action and suspense that will have audience members on the edge of their seats, and while in general it stays very faithful to the source material, there is quite a bit of added embellishment to make for a grander and more spectacular epic, with added battle and chase sequences that are deftly handled and add to the story and the level of excitement, where in less skilled hands they could have easily overtaken it. The level of action, and violence, is really quite a bit stronger than in the first film, and the film has a darker, grittier tone, which makes it something of a surprise that the filmmakers got away with a PG rating for what is clearly a PG-13 film.
As mentioned before, the actors really step up to the plate this time, in particularly Keynes and Moseley as Peter and Edmund. But the most delightful performances come from the great Peter Dinklage (known for his brilliantly subtle turn in "The Station Agent," and perhaps best remembered as the diminutive author of children's books in "Elf") and Reepicheep, a bold and chivalrous mouse (voice of Eddie Izzard), who really steals the show. The effects are absolutely top notch, and in the final third the movie reaches such a fever pitch of excitement that it recalls Peter Jackson's "The Two Towers," arguably the most exciting installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
So, in the end, "Prince Caspian" may not be the profound allegorical tale that "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" was, or reach the same level of magical wonder, but it more than succeeds at what it sets out to do, and strongly indicates that there is a future in the Narnia franchise.