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‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ colorful but lacks charm

Sometimes it’s "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Sometimes it’s more like "The Voyage of the Yawn Treader."

Yet it’s doubtful devoted "Chronicles of Narnia" fans will care either way.

They’ll be too busy reveling in the return to author C.S. Lewis’ make-believe realm to notice that this third cinematic "Narnia" odyssey doesn’t really go much of anywhere. And certainly not anywhere we haven’t been before.

Oh, it’s a colorful enough tale — and much livelier, at least, than the chronicle’s gloomy second chapter, 2008’s "Prince Caspian."

But the sense of wonder that made 2005’s initial installment, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," such a charmer still seems missing in action.

As a result, "Dawn Treader’s" magic emerges in fits and starts, surrounded by heaping helpings of obligatory, effects-laden action — seemingly designed to take advantage of what turns out to be rather underwhelming 3-D.

But you can’t have everything — a fact our young heroes, Pevensie siblings Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes ), already have discovered as "Dawn Treader" sets sail.

It’s still World War II, and they’re still stuck in London, staying with relatives — including their insufferable young cousin Eustace ("Son of Rambow ‘s" massively bratty Will Poulter ), a bookish boor who ridicules their tales of Narnia.

Eustace thinks Narnia’s nothing but a figment of his cousins’ imaginations — until a painting comes to life on the wall, the seascape’s rising tide flooding their room and sweeping them underwater.

When Lucy, Edmund and Eustace surface, they’re midocean, with a fantastical Viking-style ship, complete with dragon figurehead, bearing down on them.

Luckily, the ship turns out to be the Dawn Treader — and aboard is none other than the valiant Caspian (Ben Barnes, returning from the second chapter), who rescues the castaways and sweeps them along on his odyssey against the dark side. (Oops, wrong saga.)

Restored to the throne, Caspian’s an able and amiable monarch. Yet evil remains a constant threat, providing ample opportunity for swashbuckling adventure.

Among our heroes’ quests: liberate innocents imprisoned by an ominous green mist, and retrieve the seven swords of the (missing) Lords of Telmar, so darkness may be vanquished once and for all.

If any or all of the above elicits a fervent "Say what?" from you, you’re clearly not up on your "Narnia" lore — which means you should probably watch "Dawn Treader’s" predecessors on DVD before venturing forth on this cinematic voyage.

That’s because the movie not only assumes you’ve already seen the first two movies but makes absolutely no attempt to introduce its characters or themes.

And there’s not much attempt to explain or expand on them from credited screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who scripted the first two "Narnia" movies) and newcomer Michael Petroni ("Possession," "Queen of the Damned").

As far as "Dawn Treader’s" central characters are concerned, what you see is what you get: Caspian and Edmund charge into danger (with the latter briefly tempted/tormented by visions of Tilda Swinton’s tantalizing White Witch), while the maturing Lucy minds her manners, emitting ladylike shrieks of warning when not wondering whether she’ll ever be as pretty as her older sister Susan (Anna Popplewell, who’s reduced to cameo status along with William Moseley as big brother Peter).

Only useless Eustace displays much character growth. And that’s only because dashing swordsmouse Reepicheep (voiced with a fine flourish by Simon Pegg, taking over from Eddie Izzard) is determined to impart some hard-won wisdom to the obnoxious lad — even if it requires the use of his rapier along with his rapier wit.

Director Michael Apted takes over from Andrew Adamson, who helmed the first two "Narnia" installments. And the versatile Apted — whose credits range from documentaries to dramas to James Bond spyjinks — keeps "Dawn Treader" sailing onward, if not quite soaring upward.

Most of the time, Apted sends his camera swooping and spiraling around and around and around, in an attempt to keep things moving — literally — even when they’re not moving emotionally.

It’s a cinematic mode of transport that (especially in 3-D) feels at least as exhausting as it is exhilarating.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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