The Voyage of the Dawn Treader lives up to expectations in bringing the Christian theology of C.S. Lewis' novel to the big screen.
The movie adaptation, based on the third entry in the Narnia series, grapples with several Christian themes throughout the story including faith, overcoming temptation, reconciliation, salvation and even heaven.
Director Michael Apted takes the audience on a fantasy-action quest that delights with surprises even though there are moments when we feel some scenes have been played out before, albeit on a darker tone, in movies like Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Set in World War II Britain, the two youngest Pevensies, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are staying with their bratty cousin Eustace (Will Pouter). The two boys get into a little quarrel while Lucy notices that water is gushing out from a painting of a very "Narnia-like" ship. Not long before the three emerge from the water that has clearly transported them to the magical land of Narnia, King Caspian (Ben Barnes) rescues them onboard the sailing Dawn Treader and the unlikely crew begin their journey.
The driving force behind the plot is that a sinister green smoke is lurking in the Kingdom, consuming Narnian citizens or bewitching them to succumb to their inner demons.
In order to destroy it, the Treader team must collect the seven swords belonging to the Narnian Lords and place them at Aslan's table to unlock their magical powers.
As they venture from island to island, Caspian, Edmund, Lucy and Eustace take turns being seduced by the "evil" behind the smoke.
[Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead]
The real test for the characters lies not in battling slave traders, raging waves or sea serpents but battling their self-destructive greed for power, wealth and beauty.
On one of the islands, the travelers encounter a wizard who makes a prophetic statement, "To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat darkness inside yourself." For Bible readers, it's reminiscent of the verse from Ephesians that speaks of the Christian struggle not being against "flesh and blood" but against "spiritual forces of evil."
Eustace's moment of weakness comes earlier in the movie and we cannot help but feel sorry for him when he goes from incessant whiner to a fire-breathing dragon. His character development is the most profound and satisfying as we see him triumph over selfishness and fear and eventually embrace faith in Aslan.
"No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't do it myself," Eustace later testifies.
A Christian could not help but draw parallels between the emancipation Eustace the Dragon found with the help of Aslan and the salvation Christians receive by grace through Jesus' atonement on the cross.
Lucy's inner struggle to fight her obsession to possess the graceful beauty of Susan was a constant presence throughout the movie. In what appears like a message that God loves us uniquely as we are, Aslan assures Lucy of her "value," saying she was the first to discover Narnia, and tells her to not "run" from who she is.
The line that will probably be the most talked about by Christians and used by pastors in their sermons is spoken by Aslan toward the end of the movie.
Edmund and Lucy are told that they have outgrown their time in Narnia but Aslan comforts them, saying, "In your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."
The one thing largely missing from the movie that would drive the Narnia brand home is the lack of Narnian creatures that were widely featured in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. While their absence is noted, it is made up for by the visual graphics depicting Aslan, Reepicheep, Eustace as a dragon and the sea serpent.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has the elements to contend with other fantasy and family-friendly movies out in theaters this weekend. Whether you are a Christian checking to see whether the movie remains faithful to the theology in the books, a die-hard Narnia fan, or looking for adventure and action without the overblown gore of Hollywood, this movie is one definitely worth watching.