Despite the trailers and despite a complete lack of interest in these C.S. Lewis film adaptations, I held out some slim hope for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—owing to the fact that it was directed by Michael Apted. It didn’t take long for that hope to disappear entirely as I slogged my way through this morass of mediocrity. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen this year, but it may be the most tedious, clunkiest and dullest. OK, once again I should clarify that the source books were not a part of my childhood, and I find the whole crypto-Christian aspect tiresome, simplistic and of dubious theological value. In short, I am not the audience for these movies. I loathed the first one, but I didn’t really mind the second one. This one is kind of back to square one, though I’m hard-pressed to work up the energy to actively loathe it. Let’s say I passively dislike it and let it go at that.
This time—presumably following the dictates of the books—the older children in the Pevensie brood have been packed off to the U.S. for the duration of World War II, leaving smugly pious Lucy (Georgie Henley) and the more tractable Edmund (Skandar Keynes) in England. The blitz may be bad, but their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter, Son of Rambow) is worse. He is not only irritable and rude, but he has no imagination whatsoever, which, in terms of these movies, means he has no belief. And as the film insists, “Without our belief, we have nothing.” Naturally, Eustace has a lesson to learn. And that’s going to happen when he and the younger Pevensies are somewhat arbitrarily whisked back to Narnia and hauled out of the ocean by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who is aboard the good ship Dawn Treader.
The plot moves in fits and starts—which is actually the way the whole movie works—but essentially involves Caspian and his English comrades heading out to collect seven swords that have to be placed on Aslan’s table. Why seven? In keeping with the mystical seven, I guess: seven days of the week, seven deadly sins, seven voyages of Sinbad, seven brides for seven brothers etc. (Bonus points for getting the reference.) And why do they have to be laid on Aslan’s table? Maybe he needs them for a dinner party. In any case, collecting these pig-stickers is the plot.
Now, since that’s not much of a plot, it’s fleshed out with Lucy and Edmund being tempted to stray from the path. In Lucy’s case, this is some kind of sexual awakening where she wants to be her more attractive sister. In Edmund’s, it’s occasional visions of the White Witch (Tilda “Just sign my check” Swinton) tempting him to eat her Turkish delight (so to speak). Then, of course, nasty Eustace has to learn the errors of his rational ways, which consists of having him turned into a ho-hum CGI dragon and bonding with the CGI rodent named Reepicheep from the previous movie (here voiced by Simon Pegg rather than Eddie Izzard). It’s about as exciting as it sounds—maybe less so.
What’s it all in the service of—apart from setting up the next entry? Well, I’m not entirely clear on that. When Aslan (Christ as a CGI lion) shows up at the climax, he tells Lucy that the whole reason for all this is so that she will understand that in her world he is “known by another name.” If that’s what this was all about, there must have been an easier—certainly less lengthy—way to convey it. When all is said and done, Narnia isn’t a terribly compelling world and its inhabitants are either ridiculous (the race of one-legged whatevers) or alternately annoying or cloying (Reepicheep). Worse, the story this round has the huge drawback of lacking a solid villain at its center. This latest entry is the kind of movie that plays like a spoof of its own genre. Unfortunately, there aren’t many laughs—intended or otherwise. Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.