With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 still raking in untold millions at the box office another book-based fantasy franchise The Chronicles of Narnia makes a decidedly less conspicuous return this week with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the third chapter of C.S. Lewis’ faith-based tale of the Pevensie siblings and their magical instructional adventures.
With the elder Pevensies Peter and Susan now too old to enter Narnia the burden falls upon young Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) to save the mythical realm when a new evil emerges to threaten it: the green mist. Generally speaking faceless formless antagonists like mists and blobs are the stuff of horror movies like say The Mist or The Blob. But in Dawn Treader the green mist isn’t merely a mindless menace; it has the capacity to alter its shape to embody the deepest fears and vulnerabilities of any person it encounters. Not exactly Voldemort but still plenty impressive.
If only the characters sent to vanquish it were a little more interesting. This is the essential problem that plagues director Michael Apted’s film: though legitimately well-crafted and bursting with all manner of gorgeous and terrifying imagery (the monster that emerges during the climax is grotesque enough to traumatize the littler audience members) it wants for protagonists who can be as compelling as the various CGI wonders they encounter. Lucy and Edmund are brave and humble and kind and they are magnificent vessels for the various (and worthwhile) lessons the film has to teach; sadly try as I might I couldn’t summon the strength to care a whit about them. Ditto for their mighty confederate the dashing swashbuckler King Caspian (Ben Barnes) who seems scarcely more than a pretty (but virtuous) face. And Aslan the Jesus Lion voiced by Liam Neeson emerges only on occasion to give a pep talk or a kindly sermon.
You know your $150 million epic is in grave danger when its most memorable character is a talking mouse. Unfortunately (spoiler alert!) I fear that little Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) will not be seen in the next Narnia film. If there is a next Narnia film.