Want to save a few bucks? Skip this movie. Stuck with having to see it because your kids were so enchanted with the first two entries in the series? Don’t fork over the extra money to watch it in unimaginatively produced 3-D. You’ll miss nothing in the cheaper 2-D version.
Such a pity. I’ve always had a thing for fantasy films, going back to Saturday matinees of wonderful movies such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, and as recently at the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The first Narnia film showed some promise. It looked great, had some characters you cared about, captured a fanciful atmosphere and, oh yeah, was kind of heavy in areas of religious allegory — as was the C.S. Lewis book.
But the next one was a mess, again directed by Andrew Adamson, who should have stuck with his Shrek series, where he didn’t have to deal with actual people. That one dragged on without much rhyme or reason, again knocking viewers over the head with all kinds of Christian dogma.
So there was some hope when it was announced that director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, Gorillas in the Mist, Bring on the Night) was taking over for the third film. But rather than save the series, Apted has bogged it down even more.
Still set in World War II England, the story features only the younger two Pevensie orphans, Edmund and Lucy (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley), now living with an aunt and uncle. Their older brother and sister have been shipped off to America for the duration of the war.
Saddled with a nasty, self-absorbed cousin named Eustace (Will Poulter, the excitable boy from Son of Rambow), Edmund and Lucy are once again spirited off to the land of Narnia, this time via a seascape painting that comes to life, where they must (yawn) save the world, with the help of the less-than-dashing King Caspian (Ben Barnes).
But how many times can we be brought to the same well? Sure, there are new characters here, but the captain of the Dawn Treader — “the finest ship in Narnia” — is even more of a dullard than Caspian, the little girl named Gael (Arabella Morton) who stows away on the ship seems only to be able to say “daddy,” and the sole reason to have a plot revolving around “seven missing lords” is that their titles rhyme with the story’s seven missing swords.
Once again, the film looks great, with some terrific creature effects — especially the hideous sea serpent that attacks our heroes, then attacks them again, then yet again in a sequence that goes on far too long. There’s also a pretty cool green mist that comes writhing across the ocean.
But not enough happens to maintain interest. Some invisible, one-footed hopping creatures summon up Monty Python without the cleverness. The captain informs us that “the sea can play nasty tricks on a crew’s mind,” but no tricks arise. And most of the cast spend their time either fighting off enemies or preparing for battle or practicing reckless bravado.
Anyone waiting for return appearances by Tilda Swinton as the White Witch or Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan will have to be satisfied with about 10 lines of dialogue from each of them. Ah, but as a consolation, they’ll again get to hear wisecracks galore from the rapscallion Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg). Seriously, if that damn mouse sang one more song, I was ready to walk out and go across the hall to watch Skyline.