After taking some time off to switch studios (from Disney to 20th Century Fox) and directors (from Andrew Adamson to Michael Apted), the Chronicles of Narnia franchise returns with its third installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but it could just as easily have stayed away. The adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ beloved fantasy novels have so far been competent and mildly entertaining, but Dawn Treader is the blandest one yet. It’ll probably satisfy fans who are just looking to see the characters return to the big screen, but it never exhibits any sense of urgency or excitement, nor a real reason for continuing the saga that was postponed two years ago.
At least Lewis has provided a framework through his novel, which tells the tale of the titular ship, headed by the former Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), now king of Narnia after the events of the last movie. Two of the four Pevensie children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), return to Narnia along with their bratty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter, effectively annoying) to help Caspian locate seven missing lords, whose mystical swords are needed to destroy some vaguely defined evil.
The quest here is a lot less exciting than in the first two films, with no real villain and a distinct lack of epic battles. The effects are often mediocre, and the character arcs are less than compelling. The elder Pevensies make only cameo appearances, and while Edmund and Lucy are older now, they go through the same emotional trials they’ve dealt with before (Edmund is tempted by power; Lucy feels inferior). Barnes’ Caspian is featured prominently but never does anything interesting, and only Eustace really develops as a person (although that means he spends much of the movie being irritating). Lewis’ religious message, underplayed in the previous films, gets its most obvious push here, and it feels a little jarring. There is a bit of decent world-building that may pay off if the series continues, but otherwise Dawn Treader makes a good case for letting this franchise sail off into the sunset.