Mella Carron, left, and Aneurin Barnard star in the fantasy adventure film "The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box," an RLJ Entertainment release.
Since “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” hit the big screen in the summer of 2011, bringing an end to the franchise about the Boy Who Lived, Hollywood has been searching for a suitable cinematic vehicle to attract all those eager viewers.
Most recently, this search led to the young adult series by author G.P. Taylor centering on Mariah Mundi. The first film in a planned series is “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box,” opening in limited release Jan. 10. Locally, the film will be playing at AMC Woodlands Square 20, 3128 Tampa Road, Oldsmar.
Rated PG, “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” is appealing and enjoyable despite slow pacing and plot inconsistencies.
As the film opens, young Mariah Mundi’s privileged life is cast into chaos following a series of incidents including the disappearance of his parents and the abduction of his younger brother, Felix. Mariah only avoids being kidnapped thanks to the help of Captain Will Charity, who explains that Otto Luger – a villain devoted to uncovering the mystical and powerful Midas Box, is threatening his family.
Charity sends Mariah to the Prince Regent Hotel, an island resort known for its restorative thermal baths. Luger has taken up residence at the hotel and Charity suspects that the Midas Box must therefore be nearby. As he tries to uncover clues that will lead him to his family, Mariah discovers all kinds of mysterious goings-on at the Prince Regent Hotel. With the aid of a young servant girl, Sacha, and an eccentric magician, Mariah struggles to find out the truth behind Luger’s intentions and to save his family.
Viewed strictly as a family-friendly adventure, “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” has a lot going for it. It borrows heavily from early Indiana Jones films, depicting a world in which ancient secrets and arcane lore have tangible, supernatural power. In this kind of film, legend must be more than myth: The filmmaker must make the unbelievable believable, if only for the duration of the story.
Director Jonathan Newman has taken considerable care in crafting “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” so that it will appeal to several subsets of moviegoers. The tale is set in Victorian England, and features an episodic style that evokes Dickensian stories. Mariah and his brother Felix even end up in the courtyard of a workhouse at one point and are accosted by a ruffian who could well have been one of Fagin’s pickpockets – perhaps even the Artful Dodger himself. There are the obvious aforementioned allusions to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” particularly with the introduction of a secretive department of the British government – the Bureau of Antiquities – charged with securing dangerous relics and handling all things of a supernatural nature.
When the action moves to the Prince Regent Hotel, Newman cleverly inserts a steampunk ambiance, reveling in the glimmering steam-powered machinery Luger has employed to find the Midas Box.
“The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” most significant weakness is its sluggishness. The plot moves at a snail’s pace through much of the film without generating much excitement. While many would agree that today’s movies too often over-extend chase sequences, in “The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box,” some pursuit scenes literally take mere seconds to conclude.
The acting overall is exemplary.
Aneurin Barnard stars as Mariah Mundi. His performance is oddly reminiscent of Elijah Wood’s Frodo Baggins – he gives the character an inconspicuous bravery and general sense of decency without making him seem trite.
Michael Sheen portrays Captain Will Charity. He imbues the character with just the right amount of vanity to call to mind Indiana Jones. Mella Carron plays Sacha. While the role initially seems to be incidental, Carron manages to express both motivation and depth and ultimately makes this character one of the most thoroughly developed ones in the entire film.
Sam Neill gives a solid performance as Otto Luger. With a name like that, one might expect an over-the-top German accent, but Neill plays the antagonist with quiet, methodical belligerence instead of making him some nutty megalomaniac. Lena Headey is less effective as his accomplice, Monica. Her portrayal is stilted and stale.
Another flaw in “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” is that the film almost never sufficiently conveys any great peril.
From its earliest scenes of abduction and pursuit, there is rarely a great sense of danger. Otto Luger’s henchmen, the thuggish Grendel and Grimm, are physically menacing but seem easy to outwit. Meanwhile, Luger, while malevolent and immoral, does not appear to pose any significant threat unless he is carrying a weapon. There are a number of instances when Mariah might have brought a swift end to the entire predicament simply by punching old Otto in the kisser.
Of course, that’s one of the things that makes “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” rather unique. Newman is counting on audiences to thrive on the mystery and to play along as Mariah collects the pieces to the puzzle. Mariah is as much a young Sherlock Holmes as he is a young Indiana Jones, in that regard.
“The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” boasts no bone-rattling explosions, no cling-to-the-edge-of-the-seat chase sequences through Victorian London and relatively few special effects – CGI or otherwise – compared to most modern Hollywood fare. Instead, it offers a fascinating mystery, an entertaining story and compelling characters. It evokes a variety of iconic adventure films, but – in order to appeal to wider audiences and younger viewers – dials back the intensity of the action. It’s fun, suspenseful and satisfying.