For the third Narnia franchise installment, veteran director Michael Apted takes over helming duties performed by Andrew Adamson on the first two films. Sadly Apted, the filmmaker famous for the hugely influential 7Up documentary series, is confined by a script that is a mere sketch of C.S. Lewis' original novel. The result is a disposable children's adventure story that wears its well-worn primary narrative device like an afterthought.
Instead of collecting five rings ala the Lord of the Rings trilogy or seven horcruxes ala Harry Potter, the characters here must track down seven ancient swords belonging to
the lost (read: deceased) Lords of Narnia in order to save a world of
fantasy from some vaguely named threat. The opposing forces of evil
might or might not affect the actual World War II reality from which
our trio of young British protagonists temporarily escape. There isn't
enough meat on the bones here to send potential readers in search of
the novel on which this disappointing movie is based.
Youngest siblings of the Penvensie family, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are joined by their thin-skinned cousin Eustace (played for laughs by Will Poulter). Poulter (Son of Rambow) surprisingly steals the movie out from under its sporadically impressive special effects with his arching eyebrows and a grating voice that miraculously makes him the film's most endearing character. Eustace is selfish and has no interest in adventure.
As such he has
more to gain, if considerably less to lose, than his well-connected
Underage Edmund desperately wants to enlist in the British military.
Lucy wants to be adored, like her older sister, for her natural beauty.
Inside their not-so-safe European home the trio are swept off to the
fantastic dimension of Narnia by a painting of a ship at sea. Thousands
of gallons of ocean water fill up their bedroom and transport Edmund,
Lucy and Will to Prince Caspian's sailing ship the Dawn Treader. Ben
Barnes reprises his role as the good-natured Prince who chaperones the
visitors to his kingdom. Edmund and Lucy have the status of King and
Queen of Narnia, but you wouldn't know it.
Onboard the ship we're reacquainted with Reepicheep, a chatty rat who
thinks he's a mouse, and the minotaur whose presence is barely felt.
Potentially dramatic events, like the trio being taken prisoner by
slave-traders, come and pass like so much unnecessary narrative sea
foam. Sensitive audiences concerned with the material's religious
underpinnings have little to be concerned about. Although there is some
soft-peddled Christian mysticism that comes at the end of the third
act, Dawn Treader
is primarily concerned with spectacle set pieces involving a truly
gigantic eel-like sea monster and a fire-breathing dragon who has been
transformed from his human form by way of a curse.
Vanity, ego, greed and cowardice are the pernicious enemies that
threaten to overpower our young adventurers. These internal forces rear
their ugly heads just long enough for audiences to give them a passing
thought before the themes are smoothed over with pomp and circumstance.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is blandly enjoyable but never fun or gratifying. By the time the mighty lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) makes his obligatory appearance to expedite safe passage for the children back to their families, the best that can be said is that the special effects were good. It's a mantra film audiences seem doomed to repeat on a more frequent basis as Hollywood delves deeper into making films that are all surface and no substance.
This is one time where you almost wish they'd pushed the religious allegories. At least then there might have been something to mull over. Grade: C
Opens Dec. 10. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.