As the technologies required to make a major motion picture slowly start to become more affordable, studios have greater access to the kinds of production requirements needed to compete with the big boys. Smaller studios can now band together, link up their finances, and bring in some pretty big names to headline films that, just ten years ago, would’ve cost vastly more capital than it does today. Such is the case with THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX, a clever little family-focused adventure starring Michael Sheen, Lena Headey, Ioan Gruffudd, and Sam Neill. See how far we’ve come? 20 years ago, Sam Neill was an action star leading Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK; today, he’s the heavy in a $25M mostly direct-to-video release.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Mariah Mundi (played by the fresh-faced Aneurin Barnard, the lead here though he’s billed down on the slate below the A-listers) is a young man on a quest to find his family: his brother, along with his mother (the reliable Keeley Hawes in a small role) and father (Ioan Gruffudd in an even smaller one), have all been captured by the nefarious Otto Luger, a capitalist hell-bent on finding two halves of a sacred amulet that’ll give him access to the legendary Midas Box. Thankfully, Mundi isn’t left to his own devices, as Charity (the malleable Michael Sheen) and his cohorts at the Bureau of Antiquities are never far behind. Can they stop Luger before he destroys life as we know it?
(Don’t look for me to spoil it! You’ll have to tune in, if you’re interested, and find out!)
THE ADVENTURER tries very hard to be something like those pleasant live-action films that Walt Disney Studios used to specialize in. Throughout the late 60’s and 70’s, Disney produced a terrific library of family-friendly adventures – some of them period pieces, but most of them contemporary ones with a sci-fi or fantasy theme. From what I can recall, these things were never drew a huge crowd – they obviously did respectable business under the familiar logo – but once Kurt Russell grew up and became Snake Plissken the Mouse House turned its focus back on animation, where they continue to dominate even today.
Fashioned in that mold, MIDAS BOX works fairly effectively, though much like those films of the 70’s it’s probably just as forgettable. Director Jonathan Newman probably did the best he could with this adaptation (it’s all based on a novel by G.P. Taylor), but, as much as he tries to infuse the picture with the fire reminiscent of the INDIANA JONES films or maybe even the Spielberg-produced YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, this ADVENTURER never really soars. Some of that may be due to the fact that, as a lead, Barnard never has all that much to do but play second fiddle to scenes crafted with greater portions of the meat going to his big name counterparts (Headey’s gifts as a commanding presence are practically smothered in such a one-note creation, but, at least, she’s given a range to work with; Sheen gets into a low-brow swashbuckler; and Neill exists mostly at this point in his career to chew scenery). Heck, one might even make the case that Barnard even bats clean-up for some fairly routine special effect and action sequences, ones that feel a bit too contrived to ratchet-up any legitimate tension in something that’s obviously billed as an actioner.
Still, there’s something to be said for a film that, perhaps, knew its destiny and embraced it. On that count, THE ADVENTURER is a relatively benign 90 minutes. There’s even the promise of a sequel – if you’re still there after the credits – though I can’t imagine the kids will be lining up in costume should that flick ever see the light of day.
THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX (2013) is produced by a whole host of participants including Entertainment Motion Pictures (E-MOTION), Arcadia Motion Pictures, and Matador Pictures (to name a few). DVD distribution is being handled through RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film is sharply made with the best quality sights and sounds available, including some impressive though predictable cinematography. As is often the case, there’s only a single special feature – a making-of short (20 minutes) – and it serves mostly as a bloated commercial for what you’ve just seen more than a documentary of what it took to bring the film to life.
RECOMMENDED. As kid-friendly entertainment goes, THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX remains mostly just that throughout the film, but the last third is hounded by some very dark moments, including fallings-to-death, a near-drowning, and some fairly grisly (though not all that bloody) disintegrations of human beings. Sure, it’s all mostly CGI, but when so much of the motion picture was presented as a young thinking person’s alternative to harsher fare then it only stands to reason that one question the artistic choices of the big finish. Plus, it doesn’t quite tie itself up as nicely as one might’ve wanted: stay tuned after the initial credits for the big reveal which promises a sequel and, in fact, reshapes the whodunit nature in such a hurried way you might be left asking, “What …?”
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with an advance DVD copy of THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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