The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas is a classic work of literature, as well as being one of the most premiere stories of adventure, camaraderie, courage and heroism, so there is little surprise that it is one of the most common books adapted into films. The book has been adapted to the silver screen since the earliest days of the silent film era, and has seen numerous incarnations in the decades since, with the 1993 version of the film being a long-time favorite of mine. So when I heard the Musketeers were bound for the silver screen yet again, I took notice.
Spearheaded this go around by infamous director Paul Anderson, my reaction to the previews was deeply mixed. To its favor, it had elements of steam-punk infused (including airships) into the story, some decent looking action scenes, and a talented cast that included the likes of Orlando Bloom, Ray Stevenson, Mads Mikkelsen, and Christolph Waltz, the latter of whom almost guaranteed me buying a ticket once I heard he was to play the villain Cardinal Richelieu. Against it, those elements could quickly wreck the film if mishandled, a fact quite likely when you remember the director is Paul Anderson, whom even gave his re-occurring collaborator/trophy wife Milla Jovovich a role as the same female ninja she always plays. In the end, despite some other members of the Dudeletter’s misgivings, I decided to roll the dice and give the film a chance. At the very least, I hoped to see some swashbucking as see Waltz’s take on one of pop culture’s greatest villains.
So is this latest take on the Three Musketeers a film for one and a film for all, or is this zeppelin infused version of the classic going to go down like the Hindenburg? Read on and find out my dear readers.
Though no doubt many of you are familiar with the storyline of this famous tale, bear with me for the summary of this particular incarnation. As usual, the film focuses on musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis, as well as hopeful inductee D’Artagnan, as they defend crown and country against the open opposition of the Duke of Buckingham, and behind-the-scenes treachery of Cardinal Richeleau and his personal assassin Milady de Winter. On the other hand, there are airships, steam-punkish weaponry, awkward royal romance subplots and Milady de Winter is apparently a ninja. Shockingly enough, it actually follows the book more faithfully than the last few film versions – too bad it never really capitalizes on that and mishandles it. In fact, entire segments of the story are so badly mishandled, I can’t help but wonder if they just based the screenplay on the Wikipedia summary, with a few gaffes continually grating my nerves, such as their not seeming to realize that ‘Milady’ is not the first name of Milady de Winter.
As I said before, the movie has a surprisingly star filled cast, one that contains some truly incredible actors. It really is sad that none of them seem to put anything in their performances, with almost all of the cast putting no life in their performance. The titular musketeers have given us some incredible ensemble casts with great chemistry before, and that chemistry is definitely missing here. The actors portraying Athos, Porthos and Aramis give good performances, especially Ray Stevenson as Porthos, that element of camaraderie is missing, and it shows as the film goes on. Mads Mikkelsen gives the show’s strongest performance as Rochefort, and Orlando Bloom gives the films next best performance as the Duke of Buckingham, which sadly doesn’t say too much. I think the most heart breaking performance was from Christolph Waltz, whom I think at this point really needs to find a new agent. As Tim Curry has proven, you can do incredible things with Cardinal Richeleau as a villain, and if anybody could have done wonders with the role, it was Waltz, whose performance was hindered by minimal screen time and bad dialogue.
The big problem though is the relative youth and inexperience of much of the cast, which is hurt further by the large portion of screen time given to them. Logan Lerman gives a decent performance as D’Artagnan, though his lack of experience shows a lot when he’s among the titular musketeers. The romance between King Louis XIII and Queen Anne is given an overly long portion of screen time, which proves a bit of a problem as the actors portraying them, Freddie Fox and Juno Temple, give performances that range from bad to cringe worthy at times. While the rookies might be forgiven, the movies worst performance comes from Milla Jovovich. Seeing as she’s nailing the director, she gets an ungodly portion of the film to follow her characters misadventures, proper story-telling and greater narrative be damned. Maybe it’s just the fact she’s playing the same character as she does in the increasingly Milla-centric Resident Evil franchise, only with some fancy dresses and an awful accent of some sort, but if any one thing should be blamed for the films ills, that should be Mrs. Jovovich.
The film is somewhat redeemed by it’s special effects and visual imagery, which is impressive at times, albeit quite obviously CGI. The film is certainly made for 3D, with the airship scenes being worth note in particular, and is actually worth the extra money for some of the impressive imagery. A few of the fight scenes are also quite impressive, especially one in a market square where the four protagonists face down a division of the Cardinal’s guard – I only wish there were more scenes like it. It’s a sad thing when a movie based of one of the greatest adventure stories of all time suffers from a shortage of action and swashbuckling, especially since it forces the audience to focus even further on the weak dialogue and weaker performances.
As a whole, disappointed does not begin to describe what I feel about the film. It really shouldn’t be that hard to make a decent version of the Three Musketeers. Get some strong leads for the musketeers, a good character actor for the Cardinal, toss in a lot of action and swash-bucking, have some hearty and humorous dialogue, and have them say ‘All for one and one for all’ before the credits roll. It’s been done so many times perfectly before that it’s down to a science, and yet Paul Anderson may very well have made the first bad version of the Three Musketeers. Considering his past work, I know that really shouldn’t shock me, but it does.
Though decently paced, and having some decent visuals, Anderson seems to have missed the entire point of the Three Musketeers, ie the action and the characters, both which were sorely missing from the film. The dialogue, action and story were all uncharacteristically weak for the subject material, with its offerings ranging from adequate to appalling. It doesn’t help much of the film focuses on it’s more inexperienced actors, and they crack like eggs under the pressure. Of course, I don’t know if it was the script or direction, but even actors like Mads Mikkelson or Christolph Waltz involved couldn’t muster up a performance good enough to save the film. Believe me, when you have the man who won an Academy Award giving the world Standartenführer Hans Landa failing to make Cardinal Richeleau villainous, you have a problem. Of course, given just how much of the film was dedicated towards making Milla Jovovich the focus of every other scene, you might have bigger issues.
While the movie wasn’t the worst I’ve seen this year, it should have been a hell of a lot better given both the source material and some of the cast attached to it. If you were considering seeing this movie, I urge you to consider if you liked the Residential Evil movie franchise. If so, you’ll enjoy this movie greatly. If not, you’re better off investing your money in a copy of one of its far better predecessors.