After Disney gave up on distributing the “Chronicles of Narnia” films, disappointed that what should have been a gold-pooping goose had failed to poop sufficient piles of gold, Twentieth Century Fox stepped in to save the day. Not that you’ll be able to tell the difference. Part 3, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” might be better than its predecessors, which were so-so, but only barely. Something about this series just isn’t connecting, though that apparently isn’t going to stop them from adapting all seven books.
World War II is still taking place in the real world, and the two youngest Pevensie children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are staying with relatives while their older siblings are in America. (Spoiler alert: If you, like me, have not read the C.S. Lewis book this is based on, and if you, like me, keep waiting for the big brother and sister to show up, then you, like me, will be disappointed.) It isn’t long before the two are whisked away to Narnia again, this time accompanied by their unwilling cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), a sour-faced brat who does not believe in all this Narnia nonsense even when he is standing in it.
You will soon be deeply concerned that bringing a petulant, irritating fellow such as Eustace on this journey was a mistake, but do not fear. This problem is dealt with in a magical fashion.
Edmund and Lucy are reunited with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) on a ship, the Dawn Treader. Much of the film is set at sea, with appropriate swashbuckling and swordplay; if the first two films felt like “Lord of the Rings,” this one is more like “Master and Commander.” (Not “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Not silly enough.) The whole gang embarks on a mission to find out where legions of innocent Narnians have been taken, daring to sail where no one has sailed before, perhaps even to where Aslan the Christianity-lion lives!
Also: seven swords, seven lords, you have to put all the swords on a table, evil forces are after them, there’s a mouse that can talk and a dragon that can’t, et cetera.
The messages are basic and unobjectionable. Lucy, fast developing into a bright young lady, wishes she were prettier. Edmund, eager to prove his worth as a soldier, desires more power. Both are tempted by evil (Tilda Swinton makes a brief cameo as the White Witch) before learning to appreciate what they have and love themselves for who they are.
There’s a new director this time around, Michael Apted (“The World Is Not Enough”), and a new writer, Michael Petroni (with rewrites by former “Narnia” scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely). The film is a half-hour shorter than “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian.” I doubt that’s an accident. What begins to feel sluggish and repetitive at 145 minutes can seem much zippier at 115. A few of the action sequences are fairly exciting and energetically produced.
What’s more, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” isn’t as convinced of its own epic importance as the other two were. It is far more unassuming and direct, content with telling a good-enough story in a good-enough fashion. Where the others aimed for greatness and missed, this one aims for middle-of-the-road and basically hits it. I still don’t feel much connection to the characters, but maybe this is as good as we’re going to get in that department.
B- (1 hr., 55 min.; )