REVIEW: The Three Musketeers


I think I learned something today. Just because you can make a mash-up film doesn’t mean you should. That’s the lesson I picked up from Paul W.S. Anderson’s new movie The Three Musketeers. The film attempts to put a spin on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas by jamming several different genres and visual styles together. It mixes the swordfights and seventeenth-century political intrigue from the novel with fantastical elements like flying ships and steampunk gadgets. The result, however, is a laughably muddled movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

We are introduced to the titular warriors in a scene set in Venice, where Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) have teamed with the seductive Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) to steal a set of plans for a flying warship designed by Leonardo DaVinci. The musketeers are betrayed, and lose the prize to the villainous Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).

One year later, the young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) aspires to become one of the Musketeers, and travels to Paris. Upon meeting the team, D'Artagnan is soon made a Musketeer and is drawn into a plot for the French throne by Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). The Musketeers must recover the French queen’s diamond necklace or risk a new war between France and England, or in the words of Athos: “the coming apocalypse”.

It’s that kind of bombastic approach that defines this movie. It takes the swashbuckling genre, jams it together with a fantasy film and heist flick, and then applies a strange combination of visual styles, including video-game slow-motion sequences and steampunk technology. Rather than make the movie fun, these stylistic choices don’t really have a point, other than to flash disconnected visuals at you: Swordfight! Argument! Flying ship! Heaving bosom! Flamethrower!

Action scenes make use of heavy special effects that only take you out of the film. Among the highlights: when two flying ships collide above the Notre Dame cathedral and the bigger ship is impaled on the spire. Later on, the smaller ship crash-lands in the King’s garden (without any explanation of how the ship got free) and conveniently explodes in the background just as the hero and the love interest kiss.

The slow-motion fights also get tiresome. Milla Jovovich’s character feels like she was dropped in from Anderson’s Resident Evil movies. Dressed in full-length seventeenth-century gowns, she spins through the air and performs power-slide manoeuvres in fight sequences that look like “kill” animations from a video game. You don’t feel awed by her fighting skills – just deadened by the implausible action.

The Three Musketeers is stocked with actors who should have made the film better: Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans. Instead, they were given a script that contains no character development, no recognizable stakes (England and France were always at war, so why try to keep the peace?) and no consistent dialogue.

In fact, the lines are so anachronistic (Richelieu at one point answers a question with a half-hearted “Yep!”), that it’s hard to tell if the filmmakers purposefully set the movie in the 1600s or if the time period was merely a happy accident.

The movie is paced in a clumsy way that failed to build any tension or form a logical story arc. It forgets about the Musketeers in the second act, only bringing them back when the movie remembers that there is some sort of problem that the heroes should solve. When we finally figure out what the heroes’ goal is, it feels like they just complete it on a whim. I can only hope that the few people laughing in my screening were doing so because of the lazy way this movie lurches from scene to scene.

Normally, I’d mention the film’s use of 3D in a note after the review, but here the format is enough of a problem that it’s worth bringing up in the main article. You’d expect that the 3D might be fun for some gimmicky sword-thrusts into the audience. Instead, it just darkens the picture and crushes the background, making the characters look like paper dolls that don’t really exist in the frame. I counted maybe one or two points where the 3D had its intended effect – if you must see this movie, see it in 2D.

I guess that the concept behind this version of The Three Musketeers was to apply some modern tricks to a classic tale. The problem is that the source material didn’t need any updating – a straightforward adaptation of Dumas’ novel would have been far better than this confused jumble of a movie.

It’s interesting that the only redeeming piece of this film is the final swordfight between D’Artagnan and Richelieu’s captain of the guard, Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen). It’s a standard one-on-one fight with a good rhythm and some unexpected choreography. If only the rest of the movie could have been like this – unafraid to stick to the swashbuckling action and colourful characters that have kept the property alive for 160 years.

There is so much senseless, contradictory material in The Three Musketeers that it feels like a schizophrenic series of vignettes, a condition that is only aggravated by ridiculous special effects and a pitifully anachronistic script. The Three Musketeers gets one star out of four.

What did you think of this movie? Do you agree that it’s a confusing mess, or did you enjoy how it riffed on the classic Dumas material? Post your comments in the section down below! You can also follow me on Twitter if you’d like notifications about new posts, or you can browse through my recent movie reviews:

The Ides of March  |  Moneyball  |  Drive  |  Midnight in Paris