Who knew the Three Musketeers were actually France’s version of the Mission: Impossible force? When we first meet them, Musketeers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) are in Italy executing a perfectly planned caper with the assistance of Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), Athos’ very capable lover. The operation goes without a hitch, and the foursome retire to celebrate their latest escapade, when Milady pulls a fast one, drugs the Musketeers, and promptly hands over some awesome Da Vinci plans for a flying war machine over to the nefarious Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). Oh, love. It hurts even in 17th Century France. Probably more cause all the women are wearing corsets.
Let’s get it out of the way first, shall we? Anyone expecting slavish devotion to historical facts or even steadfast loyalty to the Alexandre Dumas novel from director Paul W.S. Anderson’s version of “The Three Musketeers” are surely barking up the wrong tree. I mean for God’s sake, when we first see Athos and Aramis, they’re basically ninjas. In any case, the film soon picks up with young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), a wannabe Musketeer leaving home for the first time. (“Band of Brothers” alert! D’Artagnan’s pop is played by Dexter Fletcher, John Martin himself.) Our young hero is all piss and vinegar, and on his way to enlist with the famed Musketeers runs afoul of the ill-tempered Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen). Fortunately the young pup survives his encounter (albeit just barely), and eventually “runs” into the acquaintances Athos, Aramis, and Porthos, the threesome having since left the Musketeers due to “budget cuts”. The foursome unite, and just in time, too, because all of France needs saving from the devious Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), who has designs on the throne even if he has to set up the Queen to do it. Hey, man wants what he wants, am I right?
Written by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies, “The Three Musketeers” gets bonus brownie points for being just about the goofiest thing I’ve seen in terms of studio filmmaking in a long time. It’s silly, kooky, and for its first two acts is completely devoid of any attempts at mounting a serious period movie whatsoever. The film does follow the general plot of the Dumas novel for the most part, but I’m sure even Dumas couldn’t have come up with some of the dialogue that ends up here, including a “borrowing” of the famous “you insulted my horse” gag from the Clint Eastwood Western “For a Few Dollars More”. Ten minutes into “The Three Musketeers” and you will either accept the film as a ludicrous piece of Hollywood studio entertainment (which means you won’t take anything from this moment on seriously), or you’ll be left sitting there with jaw agape at every ridiculous, giggle-worthy line of dialogue and slow-motion Milla Jovovich action scene. And yes, there are plenty of both.
For a fluffy piece of entertainment, “The Three Musketeers” has managed to assemble quite the impressive cast. Even though “Percy Jackson’s” Logan Lerman gets most of the screentime, Macfadyen, Evans, and Stevenson still manage to do fine work, as do Juno Temple as the serious-minded young Queen and Freddie Fox as her child-like husband, the King of France. Christoph Waltz seems to be alternating between camp and serious villainy, striking much the same inconsistent tone he did in “The Green Hornet”. Former Bond bad guy Mads Mikkelsen, meanwhile, kinda looks like the illegitimate child of Waltz, and for some reason I never could shake that. Maybe it’s the facial hair. Meanwhile, I can’t quite decide if Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham is brilliant or just oversold. Either way, he’s certainly colorful enough. And Milla Jovovich? Well, there’s probably a good reason most of her action scenes are in “ooh, look at me!” slow-motion. Her husband is the director, after all. Gotta keep the old lady happy at home, am I right, Paul?
Sticking true to its frivolous nature, “The Three Musketeers” doesn’t force its actors to “sound French”, and instead allows everyone to use their native accent. I’ve always hated the “foreign accent” conceit in movies, so I am perfectly fine with hearing Logan Lerman sounding like some punk kid from Beverly Hills when he’s supposed to be some punk kid from the French countryside. That’s certainly not anymore far-fetched than watching the Musketeers flying around in an airship firing cannons and flamethrowers, or watching Milla Jovovich pulling a Tom Cruise with 17th century equipment. It’s hard to take a movie like “The Three Musketeers” too seriously, because it’s pretty obvious the filmmakers aren’t — for the most part, anyway. If you’re sitting there with mouth agape, you’re just not approaching this with the right frame of mind. Just think of it as one big, expensive Hollywood costume party, and you’ll be amazed at how much fun you’ll have with it.
Like most of Paul W.S. Anderson’s films, there are a couple of nifty action sequences in “The Three Musketeers”, but the movie never threatens to rise to the level of greatness in any one category. It’s good, decent fun, even outrageously silly, but it definitely won’t make you run out to the book store to grab the original Dumas novel. So if that’s the outcome you were hoping for, you’ll be disappointed. If not? Then hey, watching Milla Jovovich batting her eyes innocently and killing people can be an absolute blast. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie ended up doing well enough at the box office that it paves the way for a franchise. After all, Dumas did write two sequels, and if the ending of “Musketeers” is any indication, Anderson and company certainly appear keen on doing at least one more movie. As for the 3D? Only if you enjoy explosions, swords, and other assorted background objects flying in your face, then by all means see it in 3D. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Paul W.S. Anderson (director) / Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies (screenplay), Alexandre Dumas (novel “Les Trois Mousquetaires”)
CAST: Matthew Macfadyen … Athos
Milla Jovovich … Milady de Winter
Luke Evans … Aramis
Ray Stevenson … Porthos
Til Schweiger … Cagliostro
Orlando Bloom … Duke of Buckingham
Logan Lerman … D’Artagnan
Mads Mikkelsen … Rochefort
Christoph Waltz … Richelieu
Gabriella Wilde … Constance
Freddie Fox … Louis
Juno Temple … Queen