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There are many benefits for studios turning to stories in the public domain: Easy name recognition, freedom to re-interpret the material and most of all, it is free. The Three Musketeers has gone through a number of adaptations over the years; what Alexandre Dumas must think of Paul W. S. Anderson’s steampunk version of his classic novel is something many of us would love to know.
In the early 17th Century, France has a young king, Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), but Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) is really the power behind the throne. After a failed mission in Venice to steal Leonardo Da Vinci’s airship plans, musketeers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) quit being swashbuckling adventurers. A young man, D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) dreams of becoming a Musketeer himself and is able to reunite the Musketeers when France is in peril. The Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) has made a powerful airship that could be used by France’s natural enemy, England. Richelieu and his agent Milady de’Winter (Milla Jovovich) want to plant evidence that Buckingham is having an affair with Queen Anne (Juno Temple) to neutralize her as a threat to their plans.
Anderson has a bit of a reputation for ruining beloved franchises and he filmed in 3D, which has a reputation all of its own. Luckily, his version of The Three Musketeers isa lot better then expected. The action sequences have what you want: A lot of sword fights, a bit of flint-lock action and of course what all movies need, giant airship battles over Paris. These scenes are fast and very well edited. Anderson at least has some abilities on that front, but he is still drawn to some over-stylized moments, such as when Milady de’Winter has to steal a necklace from a room filled with razor wire.
Considering the budget is estimated at around $75 million, the special effects were very strong and helped make the action sequences look more convincing. The obvious highlight is the use of airships whether battling in the skies or crashing into the ground. But the 3D effects did not enhance the movie’s experience. It was actually a distraction during a swordfight and it made some of the green screen effects obvious because of a lack of depth in the background. This was a movie that needed to be in 2D.
Anderson attempted to make a movie in the spirit of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Indiana Jones.” He essentially lifted scenes from those movies to make a light-hearted adventure. For example, the raid into the vault was like the opening sequences of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the drawing introducing the characters was like the drawing at the end of Sherlock Holmes and the airship battles were similar to the “Pirates” movies. Much of the comedy felt very focused and unfunny. The big running jokes were Louis XIII wanting to copy Buckingham’s fashion because he is a style guru and the Musketeers insulting their assistant Planchet (James Corden) as he tries to prove himself. The score was very much a cross between those aforementioned movies, and its general feel was very much like the 2007 fantasy Stardust (maybe it was the Airships).
The movie drags when the Musketeers are not on screen and the plot centers on an awkward teenage romance. People want to see the Musketeers fighting, investigating and stopping a major plot like an assassination. The Musketeers must retrieve a necklace to stop a war, but also make sure the queen shows her love for the king. Most of the characters are dull, which makes the romantic subplots even worse, when D’Artagnan kisses the Queen’s Lady in Waiting (Gabriella Wilde), it felt like two 10-year-olds having their first awkward kiss. There is no real explanation of the characters’ motives and often you just want the movie to go back to the Musketeers, not the internal politics of the French Court.
Lerman is the lead and he does not come off with much glory. He spoke in an American accent, which was disconcerting when most of the cast spoke in English and European accents. Lerman had no chemistry with the other actors along with his unbelievable romance. The actual Musketeers were very good, featuring definable personalities and ably played. Macfadyen was a stoic leader fighting his own demons when he is called back into action. He is quiet, but there is anger within him. Stevenson played his character very much like Titus Pullo from Rome, minus the sex and swearing — a soldier who is good at what he does. Evans’ character was underdeveloped, but that is because of the script. He did his best with the little he had.
Waltz was basically on auto-pilot and Mads Mikkelsen was playing Le Chiffre again, but as a henchman. Fox’s Louis XIII is an annoying little twit who has a decent heart, but little brains, oblivious to the world around him as he tries to win over his mouse of a wife. Bloom was surprisingly strong as a smarmy playboy with an aura of arrogance surrounding him. He should really consider playing more antagonistic characters in the future. And Jovovich was there simply to beat people up and look sexy, but certainly not for her acting talents.
The Three Musketeers is a movie that delivers on swashbuckling, but if it had cut much of the swearing, then it could have easily received a PG rating. Violence-wise there has been much worse in PG-13 movies.
The Three Muskeeters
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
Written by Andrew Davis, Alex Litvak (screenplay), Alexandre Dumas (novel)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Milla Jovovich, Luke Evans, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen