The first film adapted from British author G.P. Taylor’s young-adult trilogy, “The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box” bears pretty much the same resemblance to the Harry Potter movies as Taylor’s books do to J.K. Rowling’s: a serviceable imitation that doesn’t approach the gold standard, but should pass the time tolerably for some of the same viewers until something more inspired comes along. This juvenile fantasy adventure set in the Victorian era, about the hunt for a magical thingamajig whose possessor “can own the world,” is competently mounted and cast, but doesn’t cast as much of a spell as intended. Nonetheless, home-format exposure could drum up enough wider interest (the books won’t presell the pic outside the U.K.) to justify a second installment already teased here in the fadeout.
It’s 1885, and genteel Mr. Mundi (Ioan Gruffudd) and Mrs. Mundi (Keeley Hawes) are visiting London with their offspring — teenage son Mariah (Aneurin Barnard) and his younger brother, Felix (Xavier Atkins) — when a brief, jarring visit from Dad’s old friend, Capt. Charity (Michael Sheen), alerts them that a map of legendary import has been stolen. Apparently the adults are all involved in a secret bureau that protects “powerful relics” from falling into the wrong hands. Moments later the parents have been kidnapped, and soon Felix is spirited away, too, Charity rescuing the older boy in the nick of time. He packs Mariah off to a North Sea island whose resort hotel has recently been bought by the sinister Otto Luger (Sam Neill) in partnership with dragon lady Monica (Lena Headey).
Signing on as a porter, Mariah pokes around with the help of maid Sacha (Mella Carron) and a Russian stage magician who’s hiding his real identity/mission. They look for the missing family members, avoid a monster roaming outside at night, and learn about the fabled Midas Box that everyone is after. (A brief animation sequence tells the tale of King Midas — like him, the box’s possessor can turn anything to precious gold.)
After a decent if formulaic setup, the story bogs down in dull midsection intrigue, and helmer Jonathan Newman doesn’t deliver as much excitement as expected in the climactic stretch. There isn’t nearly enough magical stuff going on here to enchant, a scene involving fortunetelling cards being the only notable visual FX showcase. Instead, there’s some rather bleak, not-suitable-for-younger-kids business involving child slaves kept underground and a boy’s near-drowning. Meanwhile, the quest for the Midas Box never seems like more than a poor man’s plot-engine substitute for Tolkien’s One Ring.
That said, despite the so-so ideas and execution in this first entry, “The Adventurer” still reps an OK time-filler for undiscriminating younger audiences, providing some hope that future developments might yield greater payoffs. Production values are solid, with design contributions handsome enough if never especially striking. The adult thesps deliver what’s required, winking just enough to let us know they’re quite aware this isn’t Shakespeare, or even Rowling. Saucer-eyed Welshman Barnard (“The Truth About Emanuel,” TV’s “The White Queen”), who perhaps not coincidentally here resembles a taller “Lord of the Rings”-era Elijah Wood, shoulders the majority of the screentime with an able combo of juvenile urgency and incipient swashbuckle.