After 100 years of movie versions of The Three Musketeers, here we are with the Paul W.S. Anderson take on the story—and, yes, it’s even dumber than the 1939 one with the Ritz Brothers and Don Ameche. That’s no small accomplishment. It’s also probably Anderson’s best movie—an accomplishment of much less note. No, I am not saying it’s good. I’m saying it’s so dumb and goofy and ridiculous that it’s actually kind of hard not to like on those terms. If you want an actually good film, sure, you’d be far better off going with Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). But this cornucopia of camp, cliches and overblown additions is agreeably dumb fun—just as long as you realize that you’re going to get a heaping helping of silliness from the onset.
The film leaves little doubt that this version of the story is going to be on the absurd side when its opening sequence—which pauses to introduce each musketeer by name—involves the titular trio and Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) stealing some Leonardo da Vinci plans for airships from a vault in Venice. Not only is the vault booby trapped, but it boasts pressure sensitive floors and 17th century laser-beam motion detectors—the latter being no match for Milady’s gymnastic abilities. Yes, it appears that this movie’s Milady would be equipped to do battle with zombies at the rip of a boddice. Am I making clear what sort of thing this is? This is not so much Milla Jovovich playing Milady (though her attempts at serious acting are among the film’s more amusing moments). This is Milady reconfigured as Milla Jovovich (aka: Mrs. Paul W.S. Anderson these days).
This is all just a set-up to show her perfidy—she drugs the boys and gives the plans to her co-conspirator, the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom with a 1950s Elvis hairdo)—and establish why Athos (Matthew Macfadyen, Robin Hood) is next seen as a bitter and cold fellow. Well, he and Porthos (Ray Stevenson, Thor) and Aramis (Luke Evans, Tamara Drewe) have all become relics without much purpose in Cardinal Richelieu’s (Christop Waltz) France, but Athos suffers more because of the duplicity of his lady love, see?
The strange thing about the film is that—even with all the embellishments and the non-period dialogue (of which there’s a ton)—it also insists on cramming in as much of the book’s plot as possible. That, of course, means that the bumptious youth D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman, Gamer) is set to make his entrance as a would-be musketeer with everything that entails. And it’s efficient enough—in its frat-boy way—in doing this, though it never seems all that interested in the story. Instead, it’s all about getting to the next big effect, the next low-brow joke, and the next round of sub-Wachowski Brothers action. As concerns this last, I do find it amusing that Zach Snyder pulls the same stuff and gets called “visionary” (or he did prior to Sucker Punch). Anderson does it and respect still eludes him. Oh, well.
The film gets bigger and goofier as it goes—and more full of dubious explosions and CGI effects. By the time we’ve had airship battles and the villainous Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen, Clash of the Titans) stuck on the roof of Notre Dame (thanks to a spire skewering an airship) for the big showdown between him and D’Artagnan, you fully expect Quasimodo to show up. And you’re almost sorry when he doesn’t. It’s that kind of silly—the kind where you come to actually want the thing to go ahead and throw in the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the nerve to go to those extremes. And the truth is they might as well gone all the way, since it’s pretty clear they have a $90 million bomb on their hands.
Again, let me stress that I’m not calling this a good movie. I’m not even sure I’d call it all that competent, even as the cinema of tantalizing crap goes. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a film before that so completely manages to look expensive and somehow cheesily cheap at the same time. What I do know, however, is that I was constantly amused by the whole thing—quite possibly in ways that were not intended—and that was far more than I expected to get out of it, so I ain’t complaining. Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure action violence.