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Films that rehash material are pardonable, so long as the slant justifies it. In this regard, Jonathan Newman’s ‘The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box’ is an unforgivable, hastily-stitched patchwork of far worthier fantasy films. Adapted from G.P. Taylor’s ‘Mariah Mundi’ book series, the film’s plot recycles the much-worn locating-a-dangerous-artefact-before-the-bad-guys-do Macguffin – in this instance, a “midas box” fabled as capable of transforming whatever is put inside it into gold, enabling its proprietor to “own the world”.
Curly-haired Elijah-Wood-dead-ringer, Aneurin Barnard, stars as protagonist Mariah Mundi, whose parents and brother are snatched by henchmen of the power-hungry Otto Luger (Sam Neill), who has located the map that can lead to the box’s discovery. The box must be activated by a key, two jigsaw amulets that Mariah’s parents, working for a secret government department called the Bureau of Antiquities, have recovered. Before she and her husband are kidnapped, Mariah’s mother (Keeley Hawes) entrusts he and his brother, Felix, with these amulets, whispering enigmatically, “Faithfulness will be your shield as a thousand may fall and hide. But no evil may ever come near you with gold at your side.”
Naturally, the next seventy minutes of the film are spent deciphering this misty riddle in Mariah’s search for his family. He disguises as a porter working at the Prince Regent Hotel in 18th century London, which Luger recently acquired and within whose grounds the box is alleged to be buried. No preamble is provided as to who buried it or how the sovereignty of its former proprietor, King Midas, came to an end – nor of Luger’s plans for world domination. No, we need only worry whether protagonist or antagonist finds the box first (oh, the suspense!). Exasperatingly, this one-track plot doesn’t contain nearly enough intrigue to hold the attention.
It wouldn’t have hurt to throw in a mythical creature or two, but “The Beast”, the purported child-snatching monster that emerges at nightfall, turns out to be a tractor-like digging device with flaming grilles that resemble wicked eyes and a mouth, which Luger has been using for underground excavations to find the box. The only CG flourish occurs when a set of magic cards Mariah consults to locate his brother begin whirling around the room, throwing up strange images, but when Mariah rips one of the cards in frustration (at which point the other cards attempt to smother him) the scene is rendered futile to story development.
Then again, futility pretty much encapsulates it. Frankly, ‘The Adventurer’ insults the intelligence of its viewers. There is the omniscient, ever-witty and unperturbed Captain Will Charity (Michael Sheen), Mariah’s protégé and a colleague of his parents from the Bureau of Antiquities, with a penchant for inexplicably materializing, genie-like, to save Mariah in a variety of sticky situations. Sheen brings the same je ne sais quoi whimsy to the role as Johnny Depp in the ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise – only, when one wears a top hat and smokes a leprechaun pipe, it’s hard not to appear like a storybook cliché.
Additionally, the protagonist’s escapes from close shaves and ultimate defeat of Luger (well, what did you expect?) occur in the form of a blow from behind while the villain is busy taunting his victim. Okay, it’s a children’s movie, but implausible gimmickry, while appeasing audiences of the sixties Sean Connery era ‘James Bond’, does not pass muster for a 21st century audience.
Speaking of child-appropriateness, a character like Monica (Lena Headey), the hotel’s dragon lady manager, almost doesn’t qualify. She’s a typically hoity-toity, sashaying Disney female villain in a hoop skirt, but her simpering manner belies a cold-blooded killer whom, near the film’s end, tries to gas a cave full of child slaves. And her salacious exchange with Charity – “I make my own magic. Mr Luger is simply a man obsessed,” she whispers. “Who knows the dark secrets of a man’s cravings?” Charity purrs back at her – is an incongruously lewd digression. Even so, she’s more of a villain we can love to hate than the disappointingly one-dimensional Otto Luger, whose wry mockingness is perhaps too subtle for a children’s movie and has none of the vested passion of true evil.
The film’s most irritating trait is its (unintentional?) evocation of ‘Harry Potter’ (was Headey aiming for Bellatrix Lestrange in her portrayal of Monica?) ‘Indiana Jones‘ and even an ‘Oliver Twist’ moment when Mariah and Felix find themselves on the streets after Luger’s cohorts invade their home.
The annoyance stems from the notion that you’d be better off watching one of those films than wasting your time on one that simply rides on their coattails.