With the Great War still holding on to England, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) Pevensie have been forced to live with relatives who scarcely notice them. Their situation is made all of the worse by the presence of their whiny, bratty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) who does nothing but mock them. During one of their many fights, the trio is suddenly sucked into a portrait and find themselves reunited with King Caspian (Ben Barnes) on his ship, the Dawn Treader. The Pevensies (and by default, Eustace) join Caspian's quest to discover the truth behind a mysterious green mist and the dark island from which it comes. The world is a different Narnia than the one they left behind, however, and they encounter many hardships on the road to completing their quest.
Based on C.S. Lewis' beloved series of books, the "Narnia" franchise has been on a roller coaster since the first book, "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" was adapted in 2005. "Lion" was well received critically and made an insane amount of money, drawing upon the rabid fan base that had supported the story for years and creating new fans as it went. The second film, "Prince Caspian", was less well received and while it still made a ton of money, it wasn't near the success that the first was. I personally quite enjoyed the first film and DESPISED the second. Seriously, my hatred for "Prince Caspian" cannot be overstated. For this installment, the series jumped ship to a different production company (Fox) and changed directors (Michael Apted). As a fan of the books, I find it sad to say that I expect "Dawn Treader" represents the end of these films in their present form.
First of all, "Dawn Treader" is, in my mind, the weakest source material of all of Lewis' novels. Everything else he wrote for this series is inspired; this one always felt to me like he was spinning his wheels. Second, I think the people behind this film attempted to water down the spiritual implications and allegories that run rampant through the series. In doing so, they created a film that may be too far from the Biblically-based narrative of the book for Christians and yet too close to the realm of spirituality non-Christians. Fence sitting is never a great option. Third, let's just be honest, these kids can't act. When your film franchise depends entirely on the growth and maturity of children, you're risking a great deal in terms of longevity and quality. Sometimes you get it right ("Harry Potter") and sometimes you don't ("Narnia"). Poulter is by a long shot the best actor of the three kids but his character is also one of the most obnoxious in the history of literature and film. Keynes and Henley aren't necessarily painful to watch but they just have no idea what to do with the material they're given. Throughout this film they are routinely flat and one note and personally, I could never get past that.
The effects of "Dawn Treader" are outstanding and you can clearly see that this was where most of the film's $155 million dollar budget went. There's also a lot of adventure and swordplay here so it doesn't get boring like "Caspian" did. But these qualities just don't overshadow the film's deficiencies. It's not really a bad film and I'd watch it ten more times before I endured "Caspian" again but there are not enough strengths to recommend it, either. That's a real shame to me because Lewis' series is worthy of being put to the screen and could make for some great films. But it's hard to imagine Fox, Disney, or anyone else continuing to throw $150+ million into a series that struggles to break even domestically.