The Three Musketeers Review
Seriously who wasn’t heard of the Three Musketeers? The three swashbuckling daring doers fighting for King, country, honour and the girl have been around, incredibly, for nearly one hundred and seventy years. Their call of “All for one and one for all” is right up there with “May the Force be with you” as recognisable catchphrases. Indeed since the original prose; song, book, TV and film have long been employed to bring their exploits to the masses – in fact some twenty three different film adaptations, right from the silent era in 1903 up to tonight’s feature in 2011, spanning their adventures, of one sort or another, have been credited, not including sequels and other spins offs, such as loose adaptations or animated adventures. One thing remains constant throughout, though – the three main characters of Athos, Aramis and Porthos are joined by young upstart D'Artagnan before the adventure proper starts. With such a wealth of back-story and so many adaptations some of which that are still classed as classics of the genre, is the world ready for yet another remake, albeit louder, younger and in three dimensions? Well, with money coming from Germany, France, England and the United States, seems that decision was made for us – it only remains to see how the makers envisioned the Musketeers' latest incarnation for the twenty first century. It’s safe to say that they played fast and loose with the original story, only using elements that suited their narrative and, as such, the finished result bears little resemblance; but never keep a good story down huh? So, let us buckle our swashes and swing head first into tonight’s feature, The Three Musketeers in 3D.
The film opens up by introducing our main heroes as they perform a daring raid on Leonardo da Vinci’s secret vault in Venice and immediately we know this is not going to be a typical ‘Musketeers’ film – Athos emerges from the canal in a rubber diver's suit, complete with underwater breathing apparatus, and uses multiple-firing crossbow-type weapons that neatly fold for concealment; this is not the 1600’s of history, but a souped up, hyper real universe where futuristic weaponry resides alongside traditional swords and muskets – a kind of ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ alternative world where future tech fits retrospectively. Now, you have to swallow this idea wholesale and go with it, because the whole film is littered with this kind of attitude and if you try to resist the film will fall completely flat; so with your suspension of disbelief suitably engaged we can continue. Our dashing heroes are, of course, Athos, Aramis and Porthos; they are joined on this raid by Milady, in this version a long time lover of Athos, but still just as despicable as she is in the original prose. After the successful liberation of Leonardo’s ‘air ship designs’ the four convene to celebrate and it is here where Milady springs her first (of many) double crosses by drugging the Musketeers and instead of giving the plans to her native France, specifically Cardinal Richelieu, hands them over to the English Duke of Buckingham; it is this failure that causes the downfall of the Musketeers, leaving them as little more than destitute on the streets of Paris.
This opening sequence tells us a lot of information, not only about the characters but about the general direction and where this world is set. Director Paul W.S. Anderson has a very specific mould to his films; they are energetic with a principally young cast displaying an action orientation based upon strong set pieces linked by story narrative that, certainly in his latest efforts, is rather weak or substantially borrowed. Since we are looking at reinterpretation of a story that is almost two centuries old we can forgive an amount of ‘updating’ to bring it in line with modern audience expectation; and by that I mean the PG-13 crowd that all studios seem to aim at, i.e. the kids. To that end, Anderson is a near perfect choice of director, if you happen to like that type of film. He fills his cast with young actors that all seem hungry for the attention; there is not much of what you would call ‘talent on show’ but the energy and enthusiasm given does tend to over shadow this, meaning that it’s not all bad. To this end Athos maintains his status as father figure and leader of the Musketeers, but he is not the oldest, indeed actor Matthew Macfadyen is the middle in age, but he still conveys enough authority when called for, though his angst and hurt are pushed to the front in what appears a tortured performance dealing with betrayal, destitution and a lost sense of purpose. Aramis, on the other hand, is typically the ladies man, even when down on his luck, his reliance on his beliefs and resignation to the cause and his brothers seeing him through. Played by Luke Evans whose rugged charm is enough to win you over. Porthos, however, isn’t quite the comic relief that his character so demands, neither is Ray Stevenson quite big enough despite his obvious physique, yet he fills the role very well given that the part was slightly underwritten and does have some of the better, witty, one liners. Milady is played by Resident Evil regular Milla Jovovich who, once again, is asked to do little actual acting other than look cold, but does get to flex her fighting muscles in scenes that could be straight out of those rather trite zombie films – including slow motion kicks and diving through an impenetrable vault’s defences twice; I did say you have to go with it didn’t I? Our main antagonist, in this opening scene that is, is played by Orlando Bloom. I know the feller gets a lot of stick and that he has done nothing of note since Legolas, and I’m sad to say that his role here is of equally small regard; he doesn’t seem to convey that underlying menace that a villain of such undeniable standing requires; even his gloating has little of that superiority complex that a power hungry megalomaniac should display. And thus a large portion of our acting talent has just enough time to describe their characters before the dissolve into the film proper.
But what of our main protagonist D'Artagnan? Well he is introduced immediately after the opening sequence, sword fighting his father, a former Musketeer, and being taught the art of 'uncivil' combat; something he will find all about once his adventures start. Seems D'Artagnan is of age to go and seek his fortune as a Musketeer, so with the family horse and a small purse of money he heads to Paris; it is here that the film and the original prose have their closest bond. The defeat of D'Artagnan at the hands of Rochefort for insulting his horse, the petty offence demanding satisfaction with duels between the Musketeers and the subsequent joining forces and the defeat of the Cardinal's forces whilst clearly filmed and aimed at a younger audience could easily have come directly from the page. Logan Lerman, that’s Percy Jackson in the Harry Potter rip off, plays D'Artagnan as a young, impetuous bordering on the arrogant upstart whose enthusiasm and sheer guts inspire the Musketeers to regain some of their honour. Indeed it was this chance meeting and joining of forces that form the bond that will see them do battle for France and uncover subterfuge and conspiracy. So far so good. But Lerman is extremely flat in the role; while the film maintains a frivolous grip on reality and has an overriding sense of fun, D'Artagnan, who should be the dashing hero upon who we all want to rest our hopes and dreams, is just plain dull – whether he is confiding with the King, attempting to chat up the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting or crossing blades with the evil Rochefort, the face, posture and demeanour are exactly the same; the guy is simply boring. The fact that he has zero chemistry with the delightful Gabriella Wilde, who plays the Lady he coverts, Constance, doesn’t help matters and makes their burgeoning romance less believable than flying airships and repeating cannons. I have left the worst till last, and that is James Corden playing the ‘comic’ relief as Planchet the Musketeers’ man servant – I’ve never understood how this man manages a career and his performance here exemplifies that; it is utterly cringe worthy and while that might be the point, it still makes it unbearable to watch.
However, there is one actor that does manage to acquit himself with more than a little dignity; that is the eminently watchable Christoph Waltz as Cardinal Richelieu, who so effortlessly plays that evil charming villain that he is rapidly becoming famous for, you wonder how he get involved with such a young cast when he can so clearly act them all under the table. It is his presence that really lifts the film, and it is on his back that the political intrigue and backstabbing machinations to incite a war between Britain and France (the plot of the film), hangs. He makes for an incredibly believable villain, able to sweetly coerce and drive his ambitions forward, using the talents or otherwise of anyone that can further his aims. No one is beyond his schemes, even the Queen, whose diamond necklace is the political piece that will be used to instigate infidelity and bring about the war that Richelieu feels will give him reign over France. This political angle, though nowhere near as convoluted, was the story in the original prose; though there the Queen was actually having an affair with Buckingham – here the lines are much greyer. Indeed the story of how the Queen’s supposed infidelity would cause enough backlash to provoke a war is actually quite intriguing. With agents acting on both sides and no one but Richelieu actually wanting the war (at least until the end) the plot of the film does deserve some credit for being quite interesting. Instead of the typical crash bang wallop there is something to get your teeth into, even if it’s very slight. And talking of crash bang wallop Anderson acquits himself admirably with regard the action set pieces; using a combination of slow motion, genuine sword fighting, camera angles, stunts, editing and 3D, the action comes across as kinetic and energetic. The only fly in the ointment is that the fighting scenes with Jovovich, as I have already alluded to, look to be taken direct from the Resident Evil franchise, complete with over the top (i.e. impossible) feats of strength, speed and endurance – it might look good, but, for me, it is just rehashing what has been done before.
No while the story is something that has merit, and again going with all the insane futuristic ideas, the biggest problem with the film is that is has that ‘made by committee’ feel to it. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is still riding high, and this Musketeer film feels like it was made purely to cash in on their success. Case in point – there are air-ships, i.e. battles between galleons that include cannon fire, and sword and musket battles that could easily be mistaken for any of the sea battles in the former franchise, albeit they are in the air. The cast is young, enthusiastic and chosen more for their looks than their talent. Orlando Bloom is in it. Paul Haslinger’s score is eerily similar in tone and pace to the Pirates theme. And the whole thing reeks of PG-13 action blockbuster; it is surprisingly violent, but there is no blood, there is peril but no danger and the story while attempting something deeper is very simple.
It is surprisingly watchable as a film. If you take a look at all the individual parts, it shouldn’t work, and its critical panning seems to back that up, but it’s possible that many have missed the point. Anderson has brought together a young cast to tell an age old story but kept it light and entertaining. The narrative may be trite, the ideas ludicrous and the acting, on the whole awful, but when it’s packaged in something that wins you over with its sheer stupidity and verve, there has to be something in it doesn’t there? I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much from this film, but I was very pleasantly surprised; it was fun and it entertained me for its duration. And that counts for a great deal in my book. Don’t go expecting greatness and I’m sure you too will be won over by it.