Dir: Andrew Adamson. 2008. UK/US. 144mins.

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian takes the youthful characters of its predecessor, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, and throws them into a breathtaking landscape, where they battle for power with a new cast of villains. If crossbows, strange creatures, and a squeaky-clean young cast are the right elements for a fantasy sequel, then this naive epic is your movie.

Prince Caspian builds on a strong franchise. The 2005 Chronicles did a huge worldwide business, some $452m. For those who need any reminder, there are toys, books, video games and every other product to make the brand inescapable. The simple plot and near-absolute good-versus-evil duality make subtitles unnecessary. Home video for this film will be enormous worldwide, and the release will boost home video rentals and DVD sales for The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.

1500 years after the events of the first Narnia, Prince Caspian whisks its four young school kids off the platform of the London underground to a struggle for power in which Prince Caspian (Barnes) is fighting against a hostile army to unseat his wicked uncle, Miraz (Castellito), who has conquered Narnia and driven its inhabitants into the forest.

Led by Susan (Popplewell) and Peter Pevensie (Moseley), with young earnest Lucy (Henley) and quirky Edmund (Keynes), the quartet rallies exiled Narnians, who are a collection of talking animals and man/beast creatures, and takes the battle to Miraz and his CGI -enhanced army, clad in armor (with silver masks that resemble those worn in Troy) to distinguish the enemy from the earth-toned hirsute environmentally-green Narnians. Still, the four are generic protagonists. If the scenery were contemporary, Team Penvensie could just as easily be the heroes of the Fantastic Four.

Not being a movie that rewards evil (at least not on the screen), Prince Caspian takes some predictable turns as the swords clang and Harry Gregson-Williams's score rallies and rouses. All is achieved with the help of a lion-muse, Aslan, voiced grandly by Liam Neeson.

Adamson's direction balances the sword-fighting with sequences that bathe the viewers in extraordinary landscapes right out of Lord of the Rings. Adapted from the CS Lewis book, one in a series of seven, the approach (with the prospect of more sequels) tends more toward Harry Potter, although more earnest. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely does permit characters like the red dwarf, Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), to throw one-liners into what would otherwise be a standard mix of Harry Potter and Gladiator, although even the jokes sound oddly wholesome, as if they were written for Disney cartoon characters.

The plot even allows for a whisper of an attraction betweenSusan and Prince Caspian, but sex is leftonly to sighs and longings - a cause for regret, given the potential, in a fantasy filled with leather-bound villains, plus strapping centaurs, goat-boys and other fabulous beasts. William Mosely, as Peter, is barely believable as a young king exerting his authority, but this is a fantasy. Adamson tries to broaden the character of Susan by throwing her into the battle mix as a fighting archer, another unbelievable element of the story.

Ben Barnes in the title role is what he needs to be, a young guy who looks good enough while fighting so girls will come to the theaters with the boys who are drawn to the violence. As his ruthless uncle, Sergio Castellitto has a devilish darkness that this film desperately needs. Peter Dinklage, made up magnificently by Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, brings some wit to the supporting character of a good dwarf. (Warwick Davis plays the bad dwarf.)

The special effects in Prince Caspian can be as dazzling as its script is dull, particularly in a scene with the White Witch (Swinton) frozen in an ice block and threatening to emerge, or in a battle in which the earth opens to swallow Miraz's soldiers. The only false FX note comes in a fight between Peter and Mirz, which suddenly looks like a video game. Man/beast figures like the proud centaur Glenstorm (John) are ingeniously crafted. Let's hope we see more of them in the sequel that is sure to follow.

Production companies/backers
Walt Disney Pictures
Walden Media
Mark Johnson/Silverbell Films

US distributor
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

International sales
Walt Disney Pictures

Mark Johnson
Andrew Adamson
Philip Steuer

Executive producer
Perry Moore

Douglas Gresham
KC Hodenfield

Andrew Adamson
Christopher Markus
Stephen McFeely
(Based on the book by C. S. Lewis)

Karl Walter Lindenlaub

Sim Evan-Jones

Harry Gregson-Williams

Production design
Roger Ford

Costume designer
Isis Mussenden

Visual Effects
The Moving Picture Co
Weta Digital
Scanlinevfx Munich-Los Angeles
Studio C

Main cast
Georgie Henley
Skandar Keynes
William Moseley
Anna Popplewell
Ben Barnes
Peter Dinklage
Pierfrancesco Favino
Warwick Davis
Vincent Grass
Damian Alcazar
Alicia Borrachero
Sergio Castellitto
Liam Neeson
Tilda Swinton