Six feet under and rotted in the soil, Alexandre Dumas is rolling over furiously. Heck, even the makers of the much reviled THE MUSKETEER are turning over in their graves (never mind that they're probably not even dead yet). THE MUSKETEER was deplored for its shabby updating and lame use of anachronisms and its swapping of classic swordplay for a more Eastern fighting approach. This latest incarnation of Dumas' classic literature comes along and lifts that same ill-advised blueprint but adds a more pronounced Michael Bey sensibility. 2011's THE THREE MUSKETEERS is louder and bigger-budgeted and peppered with even more anachronistic touches, such as that scene in which Aramis meets D'Artagnan for the first time and he issues him a traffic citation. It's a jarring departure, if you're a stickler for faithful adaptations. Me, it depends. I enjoyed Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan films even though his interpretation of Tarzan was a far cry from E.R. Burroughs' vision. But I can't make up my mind whether to rate THE THREE MUSKETEERS 2.5 out of 5 stars, or 3.5. I had fun watching this, but there were things that seriously bugged me.
The world ushers in the dawn of the 17th Century, a tumultuous time. After the assassination of his father, young King Louis XIII ascends the throne. But his inexperience and feckless nature allow his chief advisor, the manipulative Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), to expand his power base on the sly.
You may spot traces of Dumas' original narrative, but it's been garishly gussied up and liberties have been taken. Young and brash D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) of Gascony rides to Paris to make his fortune, harboring dreams of becoming a Musketeer. But no sooner does he set foot in Paris than he offends in quick succession three disapproving citizens and makes an appointment with each to settle accounts by way of duel. These three, of course, are Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the three most notorious in the ranks of the Musketeers. When the sneery Cardinal's guards interfere, D'Artagnan and the three Musketeers quickly join forces and by so doing spark lifelong friendships.
But D'Artagnan is still far from realizing his goal. The Musketeers, under Richelieu's calculated ministrations, have fallen on hard times, are rendered obsolete, are reduced to swilling cheap wine and quarreling with the Cardinal's guards. Seeking a righteous cause around which to rally, D'Artagnan and his new friends unearth a dangerous conspiracy spearheaded by Richelieu and the treacherous Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich). This bit of plot territory is familiar enough: the Musketeers must retrieve compromising jewelry and so defend the Queen's honor and prevent a war. Only, in the book, I don't remember a storming of the Tower of London or huge, battling airships or flamethrowers. Or Milady de Winter taking such a physically active role and indulging in bullet time sequences. In that sense, the role perfectly suits Milla Jovovich.
So, listen, if you can find it in you to put aside director Paul W.S. Anderson's bastardization of the source material... and I know that's a hard if... then you just may have fun with this latest iteration. We get a hint that this would be a departure when the film opens up with the Three Musketeers conducting a black ops in Venice. Anderson (elsewhere known as Mr. Jovovich) has a knack for staging stunning visual panoramas, even if sometimes plot and narrative are suspect. I like this version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS on several fronts. Most notably and as mentioned, the astonishing visual aesthetics. The film does justice to costumes and sets and location. It captures the grace and opulence of French architecture, never mind that the film was shot in Bavaria. Other than the distracting spoken anachronisms, it's a fun and irreverent take. The film executes a series of dynamic action sequences, with Aramis being played up as the man of the cloth who fights with ninja-like precision. Thankfully, there actually are nice bits of swordplay and enough rousing swashbuckling to recollect THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. The tone of the characters mimics the original, only extremely exaggerated. As ever, the burnt-out Athos (an excellent Matthew Macfadyen) proves to be the most complex and interesting Musketeer. Unlike other adaptations, this film does focus more on Athos and Milady de Winter's history. Milady de Winter belongs in the Femme Fatale Hall of Fame, and, as Athos learns, you roll the dice when you have truck with a temptress whose attributes include a "gift for corruption and a penchant for betrayal." There are slow bits to this movie, and eye-rolling bits. And, more often than not, the stabs at humor miss the mark. The anachronistic elements could've been downplayed or just done away with. And I wasn't entirely sold on Jovovich as Milady or Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham. But it's worth a watch for the visual spectacle and the slick action. But you may wince when you hear a demoted-to-street patrol Aramis handing D'Artagnan a citation and accusing him: "Your horse took a dump on the street." You can apply that as a metaphor, if you like.
The DVD's bonus stuff:
- Audio Commentary with director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson and producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer
- Cast & Crew - a series of interviews and profiles on nine of the characters in the film (totaling 00:21:01 minutes)
- Costumes (00:05:16)
- Production Design (00:03:04)
- A New Dimension of Musketeers" - about the 3D rendering (00:05:18)
- "Uncovering France in Germany" - on shooting in Bavaria (00:02:17)
- "Fencing 101" - fencing boot camp (00:04:01)
- "17th Century Air Travel" - focus on the airship sets (00:02:23)
- "Cooper's Yard Showdown" - behind-the-scenes look at the skirmish between the Musketeers and the Cardinal's guards (00:02:08)
- "Milady: More Than A Lady" - Milla's big action sequence on the roof (00:01:19)
- "On Top of Notre Dame" - D'Artagnan and Rochefort's duel (00:02:15)
- 12 Deleted & Extended Scenes (totaling 00:14:13 minutes)