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Narnia: Checking off every item on the to-do list, except for drama and excitement

2 out of 4 stars


Could be an optical illusion, but it seems that a flat, dull movie shot in 3-D just looks flatter and duller. If you doubt that, stick on the glasses and check out The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the vaunted technology acts like a puffy winter coat draped over a string-bean body – all it does is accentuate the thinness. Alas, in the third instalment of the C.S. Lewis odyssey, the devolution continues with the inexorability of a fairy tale thrust in reverse – the sublime first film morphed into the routine second and now this wispy banality.

Michael Apted has taken over the director's chair where, check-list in hand, he appears content to treat the endeavour like an imposed homework assignment, ticking off each accomplished task before snapping shut the book and putting the damn thing behind him. Ho-hum, we gotta start with those Pevensie kids back in war-torn England again, then, sigh, find another portal to whisk them off to Narnia. Done the wardrobe, used the subway, how about that seascape painting in the bedroom? So the painting comes to life and springs a leak, floating the kiddies – just Lucy and Edmund now, along with their toffee-nosed cousin Eustace – into Narnian seas. Job done, I suppose, but this portal has all the magic of a burst water main. Already, the die of dullness is cast.

Anyway, our young mariners are scooped up by the good ship Dawn Treader, captained by King Caspian himself, and off they sail for an episodic bout of island-hopping. One isle boasts nasty slave-traders and a "green mist" that disappears its victims into some distant limbo. Another features a geriatric magician, a craggy gang of trolls, and a "book of incantations" where Lewis, that slyboots, inserts the Christian message that he's always popping into the pagan doings. Here, it revolves around the Psalm's prayer to "lead us not into temptation." Beauty, Wealth, Power – all tempt the Pevensies with their worldly promises, but (spoiler alert) we're pretty sure they'll eventually see the light and heed the lion.

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Meanwhile, the last island, which happens to be "the source of all evil," awaits its vanquishing somewhere in the watery distance. En route, seven gold swords must be collected to better slay the monstrous, and, since the action sequences are dead dreary, comic relief must be offered, a task double-teamed by the toffee-nosed cousin and Reepicheep the chatty rodent. To that alleged end, the boy gets transformed into a boyish dragon while the mouse just keeps on yapping. Yep, scratch off another item from the to-do list.

Even Tilda Swinton's White Witch, so regally nefarious in past outings, lets us down. Like that lethal mist, she's seen only in fuzzy outline here, as snowy as an old TV screen – more white-out than witch. As for the climactic battle on that final dark island, let's just say that if Apted's intent was to dramatize the banality of evil, well, kudos.

Of course, the denouement sees the leonine Aslin, a.k.a. the Lord, popping up again, this time reclining on a pristine beach before a very large and picturesque wave that looms but never breaks – rather like a travel ad for Cancun. Perhaps over-mellowed from the resort setting, the Divine One also seems off His game, and settles for intoning bland pieties on the order of, "My country lies beyond" and "I shall be watching over you." Sad to report, 3-D doesn't do God any favours either – like everything else in this once-magic chronicle, He looks wanting in power and unworthy of praise, just one more guy going through the motions.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

  • Directed by Michael Apted
  • Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni
  • Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes
  • Classification: PG
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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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