The latest “Narnia” installment doesn’t carry on as if the franchise hangs in the balance – even though it most certainly does.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” swashes all the right buckles, delivers slick special effects plus a spiritual subtext that doesn’t crush the narrative.
But where is the memorable villain or the sly supporting players that could have made the film the rollicking adventure it pines to be?
The new “Narnia” doesn’t feel desperate, or rushed, or in any hurry to please. And while that translates into an easy-going experience it won’t guarantee a fourth chapter.
“Dawn Treader” reunites us with two of the four Pevensie children coping with the horrors of WWII-era England.
Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are deposited back into Narnia via a magical oil painting, but this time their obstinate cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) comes along for the ride – against his will.
Narnia is at peace for a change, but the teens’ giddiness over their return is short-lived. A new evil is threatening to engulf the land in the form of a creeping green mist. Lucy and Edmund paired once more with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) aboard the Dawn Treader, a magnificent vessel filled with pirate-style heroes, a convincingly rendered minotaur and a talking mouse named Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) from the last “Narnia” feature.
Eustace doesn’t take to Narnia at first. He’s aghast at the odd creatures roaming the ship and demands to speak with the British consulate. His transformation from scold to unwitting hero is the film’s sneakiest treasure – and the font for plenty of good-natured ribbing.
To beat back the mist, our heroes must reclaim seven swords belonging to seven Narnian lords gone missing. If audience members start glancing at their watches when the story’s beats are unveiled they won’t be alone.
That leaves us with some fine teen actors, a Prince whose quiet charisma continues to grow on us and some wonderfully rendered effects sequences that should keep younger audiences delighted.
When the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) makes a cameo late in the film it’s clear “Dawn Treader” lacks a coherent focus. Epic films need the push and pull of the white and black hats battling to the death. Here, the film teases the notion of our heroes facing their darkest emotions, but the payoff is slim.
The return of Aslan and the talk of sacrifice and faith make “Narnia” that uncommon Hollywood product, a film that isn’t ashamed to discuss the power of faith. And that’s never more clear than when Liam Neeson’s reassuring voice floods the theater. The scenes are short but powerful – moments when the film transcends its modest appeal.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” may mark the end of the franchise, but it wraps the Pevensie children’s saga in a mostly satisfying fashion.
NOTE: WWTW watched “Narnia” in 3D – and once more the third dimension adds precious little to the experience.
(Photo: Lucy (Georgie Henley) watches a Narnian snowfall in progress in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” 20th Century Fox – Photo credit: Phil Bray)