“We do not profit from the artifacts!”
It took two movies with potential for The Librarian franchise to finally deliver on the promise of its premise. Even though The Curse of the Judas Chalice is the most “TV-like” of the trilogy, it also possesses the best example of both its layer of educational value and that of its adventure comedy. Just because it introduces vampires as real world entities doesn’t necessarily prevent it from also giving an authentic history/mythology lesson about Vlad the Impaler and Judas Iscariot and how the bloodthirsty legend connects them. After all, the supernatural has always been a part of the series with Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) previously traveling through time during the unseen gap between the first two films. So watching him acquire the Philosopher’s Stone (magically able to turn anything into gold) or hunting the undead shouldn’t be far-fetched.
Beyond this latest escapade into the shadows of New Orleans, however, the third installment also gives our first real look into Flynn’s life as more than an unwitting hero for hire under the Metropolitan Public Library’s employ. It showcases his human side too with a personal life above the easy fodder for jokes it’s thus far provided. No longer is he being set-up by his mother on blind dates with strangers (or third cousins); he has a girlfriend of his own. While the relationship doesn’t last past the cold open because he’ll always consider the quest most important, it allows him to feel something that’s not merely self-adulation at a job well done. Watching him throw a temper-tantrum in front of library bosses Judson (Bob Newhart) and Charlene (Jane Curtin) was just what the doctor ordered.
Writer Marco Schnabel returns him to a relatable state with this simple act of stress relief. Carsen realizes what he’s sacrificed since accepting the job as “The Librarian” and desperately seeks a reprieve. While he’s present with some vacation time to make good on that desire for rest and relaxation, though, there wouldn’t be a movie if things unfolded smoothly. No, as soon as the idea of traveling floats around his mind, Flynn starts dreaming about a lounge singer in Louisiana (Stana Katic‘s Simone Renoir) for his curiosity to drag him there. The fact a group of Russians led by ex-KGB Sergei Kubichek (Dikran Tulaine) arrives too is mere coincidence. This new adversary’s recruitment of the renowned Professor Lazlo (Bruce Davison)—an intellectual equal—ensures Sergei and Flynn are never too far apart.
Director Jonathan Frakes returns after helming Return to King Solomon’s Mines and he appears to have been helped by the advancement of computer technology during the two years in between. There aren’t many instances where complex effects are necessary—nor the green screen backgrounds so prevalent in The Quest for the Spear—but one cannot fault their implementation when they do occur. For one thing, the sand bursts transporting the vampires to and fro similar to Nightcrawler in X2 look pretty damn good. The glowing eyes delineating who is and isn’t undead a tad less blatant than the red eyes in Solomon. A couple laughing, flying skulls towards the end bring back some of the CGI campy goodness, but not enough to derail any of the production value being utilized otherwise.
The filmmakers have also seen fit to stop with the incessantly clichéd love trajectories. If I had to watch Carsen despise the woman he’s paired with before the two fall madly and unrealistically in love for a third time I would have screamed. Luckily we’re given a more authentic evolution with Simone—one where there actually is a modicum of chemistry and a believable sexual allure that both parties want the other from the get-go. This lets their relationship grow without distraction and provides the inevitable end some emotional heft relevant to their circumstances. The duo’s eventual sidekick is more attuned to reality as well since a man-about-town taxi driver proves invaluable for a tourist out of his element. No offense to Jomo, but Werner Richmond‘s Andre doesn’t bring the same implausibly convenient baggage.
Everything remains pretty light for the most part too—even where the vampires are concerned—and I’d say it’s more family-friendly than Solomon. It’s not as overtly funny as rest, but it retains the over-the-top dialogue painting Carsen as an annoying pedant. Curtin gets a little more to do while Newhart fades into the background and Katic delivers a female character with more depth than her tough girl/love interest predecessors. As for the plot, it’s more Goonies/Indiana Jones-esque with or without the pirates as clues lead good guys and bad along. So, despite each commercial break non-cinematically fading to black, Curse of the Judas Chalice is the most natural entry thus far. It almost seems Devlin was already preparing the switch to an episodic format. Hopefully “The Librarians” continues this film’s success.