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Rapid Review: The Three Musketeers

October 23, 2011

Ladies and Gents, here we have another movie that studios just can’t resist making 4 or 5 times every ten years or so.  The wonderful novel by Dumas, one of the all-time greatest adventure buddy stories ever written, is just a far too tempting springboard for every ambitious director and screenwriter dreaming of ways to make it “better”.

In this case, it is director Paul W.S. Anderson, best known for helming and producing the Resident Evil series, who has brought us this slice of in-your-face action fluff.   Anderson has made his version a steam punk teenager’s delight – full of anachronisms galore and enough pithy modern dialogue to make the most honest purist blush.

The bare bones of the plot stick to the original novel’s premise.  The young and frivolous king and queen know nothing about the scheming, wheeling and dealing behind the scenes as their closest adviser, Cardinal Richelieu,  tries to usurp them and become (insert dastardly laugh here) ruler of all France.   Yet Anderson feels the need to tack on a ridiculous prologue, complete with identifying title cards, to show us the skills of our main characters and establish back story for the moody lead musketeer.

As most fans of either the original novels or the many film interpretations usually know, there are actually FOUR musketeers throughout most of the adventure.  The original team is that of blustering and battle-ready Porthos (Rome‘s Ray Stevenson),  intellectual and steadfast Aramis (Luke Evans) and their erstwhile leader, the gallant and noble Athos (Matthew MacFadyen).  To the casting of all three original boy band members, I say, well done.    All of the above are Irish/ British scene-stealers who know how to make period piece drama look like cake.

everyone look cool while we walk in time to the music...

And then there was D’Artagnan.  Played by American actor Logan Lerman (best known as Percy Jackson in the unfortunate film adaptation of the great book),  this version of D’Artagnan dispenses with the original concept of the character as a masterful swordsman who also happens to be a suave ladies’ man; here he is mainly the upstart who is trying to steal everyone else’s thunder with little success.  Lerman is bland as a plate of dry toast when you are longing for a full breakfast buffet.  He lacks the charisma, drive and star power necessary to pull off the role.

Brit actress Juno Temple, who was wonderful in Atonement and could be the very definition of  a rising star, plays the teenage French queen Anne, and can now add her name to my rotating list of “Fire your agent, NOW” actors.  It’s a waste of a good actress in a minor role.

Christoph Waltz is the dastardly Cardinal  Richelieu, who spends much of the movie… being dastardly, all while trying manuever his cardinal’s robes without looking completely ridiculous.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to find a bad guy threatening when he’s essentially wearing a dress.

which one of these is not like the other...

Orlando Bloom is incomprehensibly trying to showcase his” range” as the mustache-twirling Duke of Buckingham, who forms the least successful member of the bad guy triumvirate trying to destroy the whiny, grating members of the French monarchy.  Apparently, their first takeover tactic involves an endless wave of  hammy acting.  Mission accomplished.

Director Anderson has cast his wife, Milla Jovovich, as the original novel’s femme fatale, the spy and thief Milady De Winter (who has a romantic past with Athos).  Here, however, her character has been given a modern upgrade.  She’s now a double-crossing lady assassin trying to wedge her way into the boys’ club, which leads to some “I’m a kick arse lady assassin”  slow motion/bullet time scenes that seem to exist primarily to  showcase some interesting 1600s costume decolletage.   She’s not as unwatchable as several of the minor players, but I’m not sure how diving off the roof of Versailles in her corset and undies fits into the general plotline.  It would have been just as easy to bribe a guard or two.

Anachronism alert:  the film clearly shows the characters walking the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, despite the fact that the film takes place around 1625, when Versailles was just a tiny hunting lodge in the middle of nowhere, waiting for Louis XIV to turn it into its current form.  Still, in a film that focuses on airships designed by Da Vinci, I suppose this is a minor quibble.

And, oh – the accents.  I had no idea that this cavalcade of characters was so  international.  Despite the fact that we are supposed to believe all these folks are stalwart French patriots, the accents run the gamut from scowling German to clipped British and back again to drawling American.  The sad thing is that this is not the most confusing or glaring part of the movie.

The costuming is actually quite good – the over-the-top Baroque brocades and attention to accessories are actually right on target – especially for the court dandies and upper classes.  Fun for the ladies and gentlemen alike.  Oh – did I mention this movie is available in 3D (although we saw it in 2D)?  Would that add to its appeal?  Not in the least.  The 3D would no doubt be the seasoning added on top of an already bland meal; just because that cannonball is coming right at me doesn’t mean I’m going to buy into the concept of flying boats – be they Leonardo Vinci’s invention or no.  Poor guy, Leonardo.  He had no idea he would become every steam punk hipster’s poster boy.

The problem is that there is too much of just about everything crammed into the movie.  The action, period, steam punk and martial arts genres all appear to have been tossed into a blender with no regard for the final product.

this is the LEAST of Matthew Macfadyen's problems...

The movie is also chock full of “HEY!  Who put THAT there?” scenes, which led me to some moments of both internal and external expressions of ‘HA!” with the appropriately snide guffaw.  1600s Baroque France has never looked so hip and unintentionally dangerous (collapsible crossbows! 1600s diving suits!), but that’s not exactly a compliment.

Here’s the thing about The Three Musketeers – it’s not terrible; it’s just not terribly entertaining, either.   If a mere 10% of the amount of money no doubt funneled into the film’s staggering CGI budget were applied to voice coaching and streamlining the incomprehensible mixing of genres, it might have led to an interesting interpretation.  This is puzzling, since one of the screenwriters is Brit mini-series stalwart Andrew Davies, who must be playing a joke on his nearest and dearest by churning out this clunker.

As it is, we are left to pray that Matthew MacFadyen has the next great PBS mini-series to fall back on, and that Milla Jovovich and her hubby go back to killing manic zombies instead of mindlessly murdering classic lit.

The Lowdown: If it is Baroque, please DON’T try to fix it.

Overall Grade:  C –

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