Alexandre Dumas’ the three musketeers is one of the most travelled literary adaptations. This time around, the adaptation is being tackled by Paul W.S. Anderson, the director behind the Resident Evil series. Hardly the most suited director, yet here he is directing the literary icon. In case you are new to the story, the double crossed and scrapped musketeers must re-unite with the arrival of the young impulsive D’Artagnan in Paris. The former musketeers must defeat an old friend and her villainous employer from seizing the French throne and engulfing Europe in war, or as the film overstates – the apocalypse
There are other story arcs beyond this which include King Louis nervy relationship with his wife, as well as D’Artagnan’s growth and romantic subplot. Although cluttered the storytelling isn’t anywhere near as convoluted as it could have been. Instead of being over-complicated and hard to follow, the story lacks a focus to the point where the musketeers are supporting players in their own story to a greater extent than ever before.
Even in sight of his less than stellar back catalogue, the one defining feature of Anderson’s films is the value of action. To his credit, the most enjoyable scene is one of the earlier action sequences where it is played straight and all the greater for being so simple. That one scene is everything a modern vision of a classic story should be. Otherwise, the value is removed from the action scenes ability to excite and placed into the hands of fantastical Indiana Jones mechanical trickery and steampunk machinery. The interpretation of steampunk we end up with underwater ninjas, airship battles and “lasers”. There is no real problem with any of this, yet it all comes down to the execution. None of the steampunk madness is anything beyond perfunctory, it is almost as if the inclusion of such fantasy forgoes reason and well-made cinema, they are present and correct that is enough. There are also visual cues that amount to toys being pushed around a minimalist map. This might sound visually distinct, unfortunately it’s as poorly realised as you would expect from such an explanation.
As was the case with the resident evil series Milla Jovovich’s inclusion could be defined by her jumping around using some sort of pseudo-martial arts while looking hot in very little clothing. That formula is stretched to breaking point with Milady with her executing the same violent acrobatics while dressed as a stripper. As this happens the camera almost man-handles her curves and shapes, there’s even a scene where the camera disappears down her cleavage. This role isn’t exclusively played by Jovovich either, any woman is defined by her form, specifically the cleavage, rather than any sort of development; which is fine if you’re a 12 year old boy.
The masculine half of the cast can be split into the good, the bad and the ugly. The good comes from the three musketeers in Matthew McFadyen (Athos), Luke Evans (Aramis) and Ray Stevenson (Porthos) who give their performances something approaching depth. Athos might at one point in the climactic battle state that whatever happens is pointless because France can look after itself, yet these characters are the only three who have anything near development. Christophe Waltz does what he does best, playing a charismatic and Freddie Fox plays a gloriously camp King Louis. His scenes would make for a gloriously distraction if the writing was as funny as it could’ve been.
The bad came from Logan Lerman as D’Artagnan. This role might be a platform to launch his career unfortunately he is wrong for the material. He approaches the role and the material as just another cocky young protagonist. The ugly comes from the unnecessary inclusion of British TV clown James Cordon. The over the top camp of the film is played for laughs throughout making a character whose inclusion is merely to be comic relief somewhat redundant – especially when said relief amounts to a pigeon defecating in his eye. The worst is Orlando Bloom; he may be shooting for an enigmatic dandy, but being the talentless waste of space he is, you can kind of guess how unapologetically bad his Buckingham is.
Paul W.S. Anderson might be the less well suited director imaginable for such an adaptation but it could have been worse, if anything the three musketeers is remarkably unremarkable. With its optimistic sequel baiting ending, this tired attempt to set up a pirates of the Caribbean style franchise has nothing to elevate it beyond instantly forgettable.