There have been many film adaptations of Alexandre Dumas’ classic 1844 novel, but this steampunk-inspired version of The Three Musketeers from the director of Mortal Kombat and Alien vs. Predator looked so purposefully terrible that I just had to see it. Much to my surprise, it turns out that the first half of the movie is totally competent (and even fun!), and it’s not until the latter half when things go off the rails and drag this film down into the realm of the mediocre.
I won’t try to convince you that this is a great movie. But it is a lot better than it has any right to be, and that’s mostly due to the fact that this story, at its heart, is so much fun. There’s heroism, deception, loyalty, betrayal, romance, swordplay – so many classic elements that it’d be hard to completely destroy the inherent awesomeness of this adventure. The screenplay is laced with humor, and for the most part, the actors make it work. (There’s an additional character tossed in for “comedic relief” that was totally unnecessary, but that’s to be expected from almost any studio film like this.)
Another reason this movie is better than it should be is some fantastic casting. Say what you will about the rest of this movie, but the casting director knocked this one out of the park. Logan Lerman is excellent as the cocksure D’Artagnan, turning out my favorite performance of his career. Matthew Macfayden plays the jilted Athos with style, leading the group with a straight face through the film’s wildly anachronistic twists and turns. Up-and-comer Luke Evans (who should be a household name in a few years with upcoming roles in big time projects like The Hobbit) brings just the right level of gravitas to the role of Aramis, something that Charlie Sheen failed to do in my definitive film version of this classic tale, the 1993 Disney film of the same name. Ray Stevenson is the best fit of everyone in the cast for his character, the surly and comedic Porthos. He’s brash, charming, and easily the most entertaining of the heroes.
Perhaps the biggest casting coup was snagging such big names for the villainous roles. Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz doesn’t quite match Tim Curry’s over-the-top sliminess from the ’93 version, but brings his own level of quiet menace to the role of Cardinal Richelieu. Orlando Bloom’s ridiculous haircut makes more of an impression than the actor himself in this movie, but he’s still fun to watch as the dapper and deceptive Duke of Buckingham. Mads Mikkelsen is perfect as the evil Captain Rochefort, and even Milla Jovovich (wife of this film’s director) is sufficiently seductive and well-equipped to handle the action elements of her role as Milady de Winter, the double-crossing assassin and Athos’s former love interest.
I was actually shocked at how much I liked the first half of this movie. The sword fight sequences are spectacularly choreographed, and at no point does it ever feel like a bunch of loosely trained actors swinging fake swords around. Paul W.S. Anderson’s direction is surprisingly confident and precise, and the editing is simple and effective. The geography of the action is well established at all times, and avoids the shaky cam trend of the past decade. Even the sets are beautiful, and Sony should take a good look at these for its upcoming film adaptation of the Assassin’s Creed video game. It’s only when the movie starts really concentrating on the steampunk elements, introducing giant airships based on stolen designs from Leonardo da Vinci – ahem, Hudson Hawk – that it starts to lose its luster. Because of how solid the first half of the movie was, this part of the film feels like studio intervention (“give us something that looks COOL!”). If they had avoided the ridiculous aspects altogether, this could have been a truly great interpretation of this story.
Despite the dreary second half, I actually liked this movie overall. It’s far better than the “so bad, it’s good” I’d initially hoped for, and if you can sit back and have fun with the spectacle of it, you’re sure to be entertained. I saw it in 3D, which provided some highlights during map transitions between countries and during the Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired airship battles, but ultimately 3D isn’t a necessity for The Three Musketeers. If nothing else, this movie has stopped my knee-jerk reaction to immediately write off Paul W.S. Anderson movies as unwatchable. This is perfect lazy afternoon home video entertainment. Until next time…