What kind of name is “Mariah” for an action hero?
How does on define what is and isn’t adventure? There’s no one answer, but in general an adventure involves a sense of exploration with forward momentum, with a sense of danger or high stakes basically a combination of risk and discovery, both of which make for gripping storytelling, which is why we all love adventure stories.
As you can guess from the title, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box takes a back-to-basics approach to the adventure genre, but does it this a quest worth taking?
It’s Victorian England. Mariah Mundi (Aneurin Barnard, Twilight) is a teenager, touring a museum with his parents and little brother, only to have them abducted. A quirky stranger named Will Charity (Michael Sheen, Kingdom of Heaven) tells Mariah that his parents were members of a secret order called the Department of Antiquities. They were on the search for the Midas Box, which can turn any object into gold. Unfortunately, the sinister Otto Luger (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) is also on the hunt for the box, and he doesn’t care who he’ll have to kill to get it.
The search for the box, and Mariah’s parents, leads Mariah to a posh island resort hotel, where Mariah meets Sasha, a cute maid his age (Mella Carron, What Richard Did). Together, they encounter a crazy stage magician, find hidden passageways, conjure spirits of the dead, and are menaced by a giant steam-powered machine. It’s an adventure.
The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box is a movie at odds with itself. Let’s begin with our protagonist adventurer, Mariah. He certainly looks dashing in his cool Victorian-era black coat, but beyond that, Mariah has little personality. Sure, he wants to rescue his missing parents, but beyond that, we know absolutely nothing about Mariah. He’s able to keep cool during a crisis, but other than that, does he have any skills or knowledge useful in his adventures? What are his interests, and what’s he doing when he’s not adventuring? We have no idea. It’s true that most main characters in movies like this are cyphers, so that viewers can imagine themselves having adventures in their place, but there’s a difference between being a cypher and being a complete blank. Mariah never has his humanizing “Why’d it have to be snakes?” moment, and the movie suffers for it.
In contrast to Mariah’s lack of personality, the rest of the cast hams it up big time. As the villain, of course, Sam Neill delivers every line with sinister relish. The character is basically “Hey, everybody check out how evil I am,” but there’s a moment near the end when he gets the upper hand, and you can see he actually enjoys his evil, which is a nice character beat. The most interesting character, though, is Michael Sheen as Will. He’s all manic energy, quirky with his top hat and pipe as he kung fu fights and parkour jumps all over the place. He’s the Jack Sparrow of this movie, and he stands out as the one having the most fun. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) shows up as one of the villain’s associates, but can’t quite step out of Neill’s shadow.
When The Adventurer gets really nutso is when it works best. The introduction of supernatural elements seems to come out of nowhere, until we remember the concept of the Midas Box. A scene involving some magical Tarot-like cards is a highlight, as it is visually inventive and it ups the romantic tension between Mariah and Sasha in a nice way. There are some crazy steampunk machines, and the true nature of the Midas Box, once revealed, is wonderfully cheesy. At other times, though, the actors and characters seem bored, such as when they find a secret passage, the line reading is a flat, “Look, a secret passage,” without any excitement or sense of wonder. In short, the movie sparks with energy some of the time, when it should do so all of the time.
The Adventurer looks fine on DVD, with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer punctuated by vivid colors and deep blacks. Likewise, the Dolby 5.1 Surround track, with clean dialogue and music. The disc comes with a self-congratulatory featurette, in which everyone gushes about how excited they are to be part of this movie.
The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box sets up a sequel. Since it’s based on a series of books, there’s plenty of material for more films. Despite all my criticisms, I would like to see a Part Two, assuming the creators have worked out the kinks and can step it up in the next one. Until then, this one is decent but ultimately forgettable.