THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN — ** 1/2 — Ben Barnes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell; rated PG (violence, brief drugs)

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" starts with a rush of action — specifically, an exciting chase scene in which the title character pretty much rides through the opening credits of the movie.

On whole, this fantasy adventure does feature more action and is more exciting, arguably, than its predecessor, the 2005 film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia" book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

It definitely benefits by being a sequel. That allows the film to dispense with the set-up sequences and character and concept introductions that sometimes dragged the first movie to a halt.

But it also needs bigger and better action to cover up a few storytelling deficiencies. Subplots are brought up quickly and then are dropped just as quickly, a couple of them without satisfactory conclusions.

"Prince Caspian" does feature the return of the Pevensie children — teenagers Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell), and their younger siblings Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley).

These once and future kings and queens of Narnia discover that, while they've been back in the "real" world for a short time, centuries have passed since they were last in the kingdom.

They also find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the supposed rightful ruler of the land, and his uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto).

While the others try to figure out which side to support, Lucy believes she's seen their old friend Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) running around the land.

Co-screenwriter Andrew Adamson's direction is more assured, and he gets more confident performances from the young cast. Moseley is physically convincing (his character is in one of the principals in a seemingly climactic sword battle).

Barnes does have some presence as well, though his silly, affected Spanish accent may remind some of the one Mandy Patinkin used in "The Princess Bride."

Speaking of goofy, Peter Dinklage and comedian Eddie Izzard offer welcome comic relief, as a heroic dwarf and as the voice of a sword fighting rodent, respectively.

But like the first film, which inexplicably won a Best Visual Effects Academy Award, a few computer graphics effects appear to be unfinished or incomplete. A climactic scene featuring a violent water storm looks cartoonish.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is rated PG for some strong scenes of fantasy violence (sword fighting, arrow fire, combat and brawlings, and child-in-peril elements), and some brief drug content (mystical potions). Running time: 140 minutes.

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