REVIEW: The Three Musketeers is a Tedious, Incoherent Drag
If Sherlock Holmes could be successfully steampunked into a rakish action hero, there's no reason The Three Musketeers couldn't be gearpunked into some tolerable 17th century equivalent -- and Athos, Porthos, Aramis and young D'Artagnan are actually soldiers, so no serious character tweaking is required to send them off into repeated swashbuckling setpieces. It's not the addition of airships and male dangly earrings that make Paul W.S. Anderson's take on Alexandre Dumas' classic, much-adapted adventure such a drag, it's everything else -- the incoherence, the anvil-heavy dialogue, the lack of anything beyond the broadest of characterizations.
Even the action sequences, which are Anderson's primary selling point as a director, have a weightless, Wacky Races quality to them -- no one who's not an extra ever really seems in danger of getting hurt. The musketeers and their various enemies bounce through blimp battles, cannon fire and giant swordfights, and at worst their brocade outfits get a little dusty. With the stakes so low, why not just skip to the end, when there are guaranteed to be the most explosions and you'll get to see who wins, before the inevitable sequel setup?
This latest incarnation of The Three Musketeers has some promising casting: It's always a pleasure to see Christoph Waltz, even in the silly role of the scheming Cardinal Richelieu. And Mads Mikkelsen shows up for a few scenes and a duel as Rochefort, the head of Richelieu's guard and a man with an unfortunate tendency to stop to talk instead of just killing someone. Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans are all fine as Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and Orlando Bloom has some fun channeling Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow as the vampy, eviled-up Duke of Buckingham. Unfortunately, it's Logan Lerman's D'Artagnan and Milla Jovovich's Milady de Winter who get the largest portions of screen time, and both are like nails on a chalkboard. Lerman, the teenage star of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, makes the introduction of Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams in the Indiana Jones saga look like a masterpiece of charm and charisma. His D'Artagnan is a smirky, preening brat who, thanks to how his introduction is compressed, seems to do nothing but challenge people to duels for the first half of the story.
Jovovich, Anderson's wife and muse, has proven herself capable of being a perfectly viable action heroine, but she's at a loss here playing a character who's been reworked from ruthless spy to double agent with no clear motivation other than wreaking havoc, and a soft spot for love that's counter to Dumas' branded woman's tendency to use, discard and/or murder her lovers. It's amusing that she's given a swordfight scene in a full corseted gown with panniers, but it remains a ridiculous update of a formidable antagonist that turns her into a simpering dolly. Putting a weapon in the hand of a female character isn't a guaranteed way of making the role stronger -- Jovovich breaking into a highly guarded area in what appears to be her action lingerie shows her character to be capable, sure, but primarily there for decorative purposes.
The Three Musketeers keeps the basic framework of Dumas' story, with a few major tweaks. Most notably, the secret affair between Queen Anne (Juno Temple) and Buckingham, the exposure of which could trigger a war between France and England, has inexplicably been turned into a scheme concocted by Richelieu. In the film, Anne only has eyes for her awkward but adoring husband King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), and her entanglement with the Duke is entirely the Cardinal's invention. Presumably an infidelity storyline would not be PG-13 appropriate, though the arranged dynastic marriage of teenagers is totally fine. D'Artagnan's love interest Constance (Gabriella Wilde) has similarly been sheared of her inconvenient husband and untimely end, and here is just a lady-in-waiting who D'Artagnan first tries, unsuccessfully, to woo while simultaneously fighting off dozens of swordsmen.
The film leaps numbingly from action sequence to action sequence, none distinguished enough to leave a mark, even the addition of an introductory segment involving the musketeers breaking into Da Vinci's vault, which is apparently hidden under a canal in Venice, in order to steal one of his plans. By the time a dirigible is impaled on Notre Dame's spire, it may begin to occur to you that most of the goings-on in this film could probably have been averted by the royal couple just sitting down and having a conversation, especially if they really are the nice, in-love kids they've been made out to be. That would leave more time for Athos, Porthos and Aramis to drink, bitch about how time has passed them by and try on new jackets, which are the true highlights of this otherwise tedious affair. If D'Artagnan was sent out for takeout, that might keep him off screen until the credits -- unless, that is, they somehow get a greenlight for a follow-up.