Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paul W S Anderson
Stars: Logan Lerman, Christoph Waltz, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Mads Mikkelsen, Gabriella Wilde, Freddie Fox, James Corden.
Alexandre Dumas’ classic 1844 adventure story about the three musketeers and their derring do, sword play and intrigue in the court of Louis XIII has been filmed numerous times before. There was a silent version of the tale in 1921, starring arguably the greatest swashbuckler of all in Douglas Fairbanks. Other versions of the timeless tale have included a 1933 serial starring John Wayne, before he was famous; a 1935 version; a 1939 version starring The Ritz Brothers; and a 1948 version starring Gene Kelly. More recent versions have included Richard Lester’s superior epic, star-studded 1973 version, with the likes of Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway and Michael York; and a Young Guns version in 1993 starring Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Chris O’Donnell.
Its ingredients of love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, daring, adventure, and conspiracy are timeless and should be worth another visit. However, this latest version comes from cinematic vandal Paul W S Anderson (the Resident Evil series, Mortal Kombat, AVP, etc), and is a visually spectacular but empty spectacle. Although it retains the basic backstory it has a more contemporary flavour that will appeal to the adolescent male who is the chief demographic for this type of film. Writers Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak take liberties with Dumas’ original story, and the film is full of anachronistic touches and contemporary flavoured dialogue.
Purists may be offended, but the film is certainly a bit of fun, with plenty of swordplay, swashbuckling action, scenery chewing stars, and a battle between airships that is more Jules Verne and Pirates Of The Caribbean than Dumas.
The opening prologue has the musketeers breaking into Leonardo Da Vinci’s elaborate subterranean tomb in Venice to steal plans for a warship. They are then double-crossed by the duplicitous Milady (Milla Jovovich), and subsequently disgraced.
A year later, we meet D’Artagnan, the impetuous, reckless, and arrogant young swordsman (played by Logan Lerman, from Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief, 3:10 To Yuma, and the young George Hamilton from The One And Only, etc). D’Artagnan leaves the family farm to travel to Paris to join the legendary musketeers. But the King’s musketeers have been disbanded by the ambitious, scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), who is keen to usurp the foppish, petulant Louis XIII (Freddie Fox).
With nothing to do the few remaining musketeers drink and brawl, waiting for the great mission that will help them regain favour. They get their chance when they become involved in trying to thwart Richelieu’s ambitious scheme to start a war between France and England’s oily Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). They reluctantly take D’Artagnan along for the mission, and he more than proves to be their equal when it comes to courage. There is also an awkward romance between D’Artagnan and Constance (Gabriella Wilde), the Queen’s Lady In Waiting, that touches on themes of teenage angst but add little to the film itself.
Anderson began his career with such promise with the edgy, futuristic Shopping, but now seems content to deal with mindless action. He directs the material here with the same kinetic energy, slow motion staging, and frenetic editing that he brought to the Resident Evil series. The action scenes often seem inspired by the martial arts cinema of Hong Kong or computer games. The film’s massive budget can be seen on the screen though with its lavish sets, extravagant set pieces, costumes, the pyrotechnics, and CGI-created 17th century Paris and London. The Three Musketeers has also been shot in 3D, and the process is used effectively during some of the exciting action sequences.
Anderson has assembled a solid cast to bring the characters to life. Regular star (and Anderson’s wife) Jovovich seems to be having fun as the treacherous and seductive Milady, the double agent who plays both sides against each other for her own purposes. Waltz again relishes playing the villain here, and he suffuses the oily Richelieu with the same sinister qualities as his Jew-hunting Nazi Colonel Landa, from Inglorious Basterds. And James Corden, who was excellent as Francis Henshall in the brilliant National Theatre Live production of One Man, Two Guvnors brings plenty of humour to proceedings through his role as the musketeers’ hapless henchman Planchet, a role that seems to have been written specially for him.
The musketeers are played by a particularly colourless lot this time around, and are largely reduced to trading bad puns and inane dialogue. Matthew Macfadyen, from the epic miniseries The Pillars Of The Earth, etc, manages to bring some depth to his role as Athos. But Aramis (Luke Evans, from Clash Of The Titans and the upcoming Immortals, etc) and Porthos Ray Stevenson) are fairly one-dimensional characters. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen turns up as Rocheforte, Richelieu’s one-eyed henchman, although he lacks the menace that Christopher Lee brought to the character in Lester’s version.
And the film’s ending indicates that there is a sequel on the way, especially if this version of The Three Musketeers connects with audiences and does well at the box office.