You know a franchise is in trouble when it has to hire Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist, Nell, the Up! series) to improve it. Abandoned by Disney, rescued by 20th Century Fox and now (thank Aslan) a good half-hour shorter per movie, the Narnia series reaches an important stage in its third installment: semi-tolerability.
It helps that Voyage of the Dawn Treader is your basic episodic sea romp, with the series taking a turn for genre thrills after the plodding bore of Prince Caspian (in both novel and movie). In Dawn Treader the book, C.S. Lewis added The Odyssey to the list of classics he shamelessly cannibalized, meaning all the filmmakers really had to do here was copy Jason and the Argonauts . It should have been that simple.
Picking up the travels of the personality-free Pevensie brats, Treader ditches the two oldest (you won’t miss them), leaving us with mugging Lucy (Georgie Henley) and glowering Edmund (Skander Keynes) plus snotty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), as they’re sucked through an aquatic painting to the titular vessel of now-King Caspian (Ben Barnes). Having brought peace to Narnia, the moon-eyed leader is on an imperialist victory lap that finds him battling slave traders, belligerent gas and admittedly impressive sea monsters.
Whatever his novels’ faults, Lewis wrote in a soothing, bemused patois that counteracted most nagging thoughts of plagiarism or propaganda. These blockbusters don’t have room for such charm; surely the author would be appalled at both their witless excess and the fact that the world he created has been cruelly designed to resemble a Yes album cover.
Being basically a road-trip film, Treader takes us to more remarkable locales than the previous two, but the most arresting sight it has to offer is a spectral Tilda Swinton in three dimensions. Most criminal: Where’s the all-star Brit cast? Oh, right—Harry Potter nabbed them all.