The Three Musketeers
February 20, 2006
To date there have been numerous cinematic adaptations of Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers that go back to 1903. More than a hundred years later the first version rendered in 3-D was made by Paul W.S. Anderson, the man responsible for the Resident Evil franchise of films. He brings the same slick, video game aesthetic from those films to this swashbuckling tale with predictable results: it was savaged by critics and performed moderately well at the box office.
We are transported to 17th century France where King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz) are in the midst of a power struggle over the country, although the young royal has no idea because of the latter’s cunning duplicitous ways. We meet the three musketeers – Athos (Macfadyen), Porthos (Stevenson) and Aramis (Evans) – breaking into Da Vinci’s Vault in Venice, Italy to steal plans for a war machine with the help of Milady de Winter (Jovovich). She then promptly betrays them with the help of Lord Buckingham (Bloom).
Meanwhile, the young D’Artagnan (Lerman) is being taught the ways of the musketeers by his father, an ex-musketeer himself. The young man soon sets out on his own and eventually arrives in Paris where he literally runs into the three musketeers now washed-up shadows of their former selves. He challenges them to individual duels only to be interrupted by the Cardinal’s guards where they proceed to bond over defeating their overwhelming numbers quite easily. It turns out that Milady is in cahoots with the Cardinal who is in league with Buckingham and it is up to D’Artagnan and the three musketeers to stop them.
If you’ve ever seen one of Anderson’s films then you know what to expect from The Three Musketeers: broad acting, cliché-ridden dialogue and flashy action sequences that speed up and slow down at will a la Zack Snyder (300). Oh yeah, and the obligatory role for his wife Milla Jovovich. On the plus side, the art direction and set design are quite impressive, especially Louis XIII’s exquisitely furnished palace, which certainly helps distract from the uneven acting and barely functioning dialogue.
Most of the cast does the best they can with the shoddy material they’re given but it is a slumming Christoph Waltz, hot off his Academy Award-winning role in Inglorious Basterds (2009) and already succumbing to the Oscar curse, that disappoints the most. Orlando Bloom, of all people, comes off the best. Lying low after the debacle of Elizabethtown (2005) knocked him off the A-list, the actor has a blast playing the Lord Buckingham as a scheming rogue that sees himself as some kind of rock star (before they existed, of course) complete with slick pompadour, mustache and goatee. Whenever he’s onscreen, the film comes alive. It’s like the failure of Elizabethtown freed him from the prison of bland good guy roles, allowing him to vamp it up as a dastardly bad guy in The Three Musketeers.
This new take on The Three Musketeers borders dangerously on the side of camp with broad performances and obvious gags. If that was the intention of the filmmakers then they didn’t go far enough. Only Bloom seems committed to gleefully chew up the scenery and truly have fun with his role. It was like he took notes while making The Pirates of the Caribbean films with Johnny Depp and realized that this film is nothing more than a bunch of silly nonsense and embraces it with a truly entertaining performance that is easily the most memorable thing in this otherwise trifle of a film.
There is an audio commentary by director Paul W.S. Anderson and producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer. Anderson always loved the story of The Three Musketeers and was a big fan of the Richard Lester film version. He felt that enough time had passed since the last cinematic incarnation. With the character introductions, the filmmakers were going for a spaghetti western vibe a la The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966). Anderson points out that all the actors did most of their own sword fighting in the film.
“Access: Three Musketeers” allows you to watch the film with factoids popping up as text onscreen and watch behind the scenes featurettes on how certain things were done. These are expanded version of what are included in the Special Features section.
“Paul W.S. Anderson’s Musketeers” sees the director speaking passionately about the project and his desire to give a unique take on the material.
“Orlando Bloom Takes on the Duke” features the actor talking about what drew him to the role while Anderson briefly discusses why they sought him out for it.
“17th Century Air Travel” takes a look at the war machine vehicle and how Anderson wanted as much of it created practically as possible in order to give the film an authenticity instead of just using green screens for everything.
“Uncovering France in Germany.” Despite being set in 17th century France, most of the film was shot in Germany because it still had a lot of period architecture that they could use.
Finally, there are 12 deleted and extended scenes. We get bits of added business, usually more of a given actor’s performance. We do get more of Lord Buckingham, which is certainly welcome. It is pretty obvious why this stuff was cut as it doesn’t really add much to the film.