With their elder brother and sister Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) abroad in America with their parents, young Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are boarding with their aunt, uncle and peevish cousin Eustace (Will Poulter, "Son of Rambow"), an upper class twit in a pint sized package who thinks his cousins's tales of Narnia are all rubbish. But Lucy spies a Narnia looking sailing vessel on a painting on their bedroom wall and sure enough, the three are swept into the sea to continue "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."
Director Michael Apted ("Gorillas in the Mist," "Amazing Grace") steps in for the third adventure, adapted by Narnia vets Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely along with Narnia newcomer Michael Petroni ("Till Human Voices Wake Us") and this time the visuals are absolutely stunning but the adventure itself is beginning to feel a bit shopworn. "The Dawn Treader" tale feels made up of earlier fairy tales and myths like Sleeping Beauty and King Midas, but the creatures who inhabit them, including the wonderful Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), help maintain interest.
The three kids bob up and find themselves saved by Caspian (Ben Barnes, "Easy Virtue"), on his way to find seven Lords who were great friends of his father who sailed for the Lone Islands, Narnia's last land before uncharted waters. Eustace is bowled over by the talking mouse Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg), who gives him a lesson in fencing, and the Minotaur, an intimidating crew member, but he's a coward when put to the test as a guard. Edmund orders a landing party to check out the isolated looking island, checked by the boat's captain, who reminds that only Caspian has rule of the ship. Caspian places the order, but the group is overpowered by slave traders who have been capturing the natives and either selling them or making them sacrifices to the mysterious Green Mist. The group manages to escape and continues their journey, stopping in a land peopled with one legged Dufflepuds and a sorcerer who tells them that all evil exists on Black Island. It will tempt the purest hearts and can only be defeated if all seven of the Lords' swords are laid on the table of Aslan.
And so we see Lucy struggle with her vanity and Edmund his desire for power (Tilda Swinton makes a spectral appearance as the White Witch). Eustace's greed lands him in the body of a fire-breathing dragon, a handy suit of armor for taking on sea serpents, something which Edmund's fear dredges up on the coast of Black Island. The end of the world is a metaphor for heaven ('We have nothing if not belief,' Reepicheep reminds us) where the magnificent Aslan greats his heroes.
Will Poulter is a terrific addition to an otherwise bland human cast. This kid is able to project the haughty puffed up rumble of a stout older man. He's anointed the child most likely to be recalled to Narnia at film's end and he alone makes one look forward to another in the series, especially if centrally cast. Otherwise, the third episode is a series of clashes and personal reckonings whose resolutions are never in doubt. But if the story seems to be simply going through its motions, what Apted has splashed across the screen is beautiful. Reepicheep seems just like an oversized mouse. Even being held by Lucy, the CGI is seamless. Eustace's fire breathing dragon is a most sympathetic character, beautifully rendered in salmon tones with sparkling blue eyes. The sea serpent is a nasty beast, a Predator-like eel of the ocean. Speaking of the ocean, the water is the most brilliant turquoise, the sands a soft beige. We've seen Aslan before, but he continues to impress, Neeson's vocals imbuing him with kindness and majesty.
And so Narnia, at peace for the past three years, seems to be straining to introduce its adventures this time around, but young Poulter and his alter ego maintain interest.
Robin did not see this film.
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