In this recent movie landscape of remake after remake, it’s just so refreshing to sit down in a darkened theatre and take in a fresh, new story that….oh, wait…this is the 23rd big screen adaptation of The Three Musketeers, you say? I should have known: there aren’t any remakes opening this week.
Directed this time around by Paul W.S. Anderson who likes to make movies about flying limbs and exploding vehicles (Death Race, Resident Evil), this classic 1844 Alexandre Dumas classic has, in his hands, been transformed into steampunk-inspired migraine factory (in 3D) that relies heavily on green screens and rapid-fire editing to make the old-fashioned swashbuckling tale into something teenagers would actually pay to sit through.
The Three Musketeers takes place in 17th century-era France, where we meet the young and extremely cocky D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who’s just moved out of his parents’ countryside home and seeks adventure of the sword fighting kind in Paris. On the morning he arrives, he manages to invite duels with Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), our eponymous heroes. Sadly, they’ve fallen on hard times due to budget cuts (musketeers are no longer needed the way they used to be), and have been double-crossed and made fools of by the conniving Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) who is in cahoots with the evil but delectably dandy Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
At the meet-up spot, the 4-way duel gets sidetracked by a band of guards dispatched from the palace. It soon becomes clear that D’Artagnon and the three heroes have a common enemy in Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), the enforcer for the Machiavellian Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) who uses his influence with France’s foppish and spoilt boy king (Freddie Fox) to rule the country from behind closed doors. In an attempt to start a war, Richelieu has Milady steal Queen Anne’s (Juno Temple) diamond necklace and plant it with Buckingham, implicating the two in a love affair. The Queen turns to the Musketeers to steal the diamonds back from the Tower of London and the three (with D’Artagnon and their wisecracking manservant played by James Corden in tow) race again the clock to return the jewels before the King finds out.
Though all of the names, places and times are present and mostly correct according to Dumas’ ancient blueprint, it’s clear that neither Anderson nor screenwriters Alex Litvak (Predators) and Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice ‘95) are too concerned with that pesky thing we refer to as the “story.”
This movie exists only to show off the super-awesome digitally produced weaponised zeppelin-boats and wicked cool retro-futuristic flamethrowers that dominate the film’s final act. It’s perfect for Anderson’s battering ram sensibility as a director, but not so great for a centuries old tale that’s intriguing enough on its own, without all of the extra flash and eye-candy.
The cast does their best with the scraps that they’re given but no matter how engaging your screen presence, it’s just plain impossible to compete with all of slo-mo bullet dodging, hidden trap set pieces and gamer-style effects vying for the audience’s attention. As it stands, Jovovich gets the most screen time (no surprise there, she’s married to the director and the star of his Resident Evil films) and the rest of the actors, including the titular characters, just kind of fade into the background and make way for the CGI fireworks.
This is strictly Dumas for Dummies, folks. The film may have its fun moments (and okay, the costumes are pretty cool too) but this adaptation does nothing more than make these Three Musketeers look like a bunch of Stooges.