Film Review: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Georgia Hanley and Aslan

This tedious third entry doesn’t bode well for the continuation of the franchise.

After slipping badly with the second installment two years ago, the Narnia franchise does a full-on belly flop with this third — and, at this rate, one can only hope final — entry in the film series based on C.S. Lewis’ beloved children’s books.

“Perfunctory” perfectly describes every aspect of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from the by-the-numbers script and lackluster direction to uniformly uninspired performances.

The lure of 3D no doubt will spike box-office takings in the short term. But Disney saw the writing on the wall and decamped after global grosses dropped, first to second film, from $745 million to $420 million, the latter a figure Fox no doubt would be relieved to achieve given the yawny nature of this journey.

It’s even possible that Lewis purists will be annoyed with this adaptation, given the extensive liberties that have been taken to alleviate the repetitiveness of the odyssey and provide more excuses for elaborate and varied visual effects. But to a series convert or not, the signal flaw in the storytelling is that everything that happens seems entirely arbitrary: Characters come and go and make decisions for no evident reasons; platitudes rather than credible motivations are provided for behavior; and no scenes are built up to or developed for more than a moment. The result is a film far choppier than the seas traversed by the titular vessel, a dragon-headed craft so spiffy and freshly painted that it could be installed in a theme park tomorrow.

What is arguably the best visual effect comes very near the outset. With their two older siblings, Peter and Susan, having graduated from Narnia duty, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley) and their bratty pubescent cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), peer at a painting of the ship and suddenly are inundated with water, which conveys them to their magical world. Conveniently picked up by Caspian (Ben Barnes, returning from the most recent film), the kids learn that, unlike England, which is in the thick of World War II, Narnia is at peace. But that state of affairs won’t do for a swashbuckling adventure, so a distant threat is conjured that requires them to visit several islands, gather the seven swords of the missing Lords of Telmar and place them on the lion Aslan’s (voice of Liam Neeson) dinner table so all won’t be lost.

Granted, great fiction has blossomed from much less, but not this time. Much of the early going is devoted to the incessant complaining of the singularly unamusing Eustace, who for some reason attracts the undivided attention of rodent swordsman Reepicheep (Simon Pegg). As the crew looks for swords on small islands, fights bloodless battles with slave traders, is enveloped by emerald mist on the sea and is warned by a magician about what awaits them on Dark Island, “a place where evil lurks” (can you imagine?), Edmund and Caspian man up while Lucy worries about becoming a woman and not being as beautiful as her older sister.

Michael Apted, recruited to replace Andrew Adamson in the director’s chair, just goes through the motions and does an especially listless job with the action scenes, in which extras stand around watching like supers in a stage opera. The film’s squeaky-clean look extends even to the sailors; seafarers haven’t worn costumes this tidy since the original productions of The Pirates of Penzance and The Gondoliers.             

Release date: Friday, Dec. 10 (Fox)
Director: Michael Apted
Producers: Mark Johnson, Andrew Adamson, Philip Steuer
Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni
Rated PG, 116 minutes