Boy, oh boy, oh boy! Is this my type of action swashbuckler? Oh yes it is! The newest adaptation of The Three Musketeers by Paul W. S. Anderson, the man behind the Resident Evil movies, incorporates so much swashbuckling, sword fighting, double agents, airships, plotting and plot turns, as well as 17th century fashion, you might mistake it for a an all time classic… that is if it weren’t for the campy use of 3D, Mila Jovovich’s bad acting, modern slang being incorporated into the dialogue, and 75 million dollars worth of special effects.
Critics have been harsh. But they are missing the point. This is the Three Musketeers! AKA the original blockbuster! And like any serial written by Alexander Dumas you would know they are all about the swashbuckling, campy dialogue, and social mischief. And if he had a say on these matters, Dumas would insist in all the adaptations of his novels being filmed with the most candid use of 3D. So before you continue reading, do note that I am not being sarcastic here; I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation of The Three Musketeers, and can argue that it is as good as any other.
However, in all truth, most of my compliments regarding this film should go, not the filmmakers involved, but to Mr. Dumas himself, the bastard grandson of a French noblewoman and her Hatian slave. Alexander Dumas is the man who, without knowing it, created the modern blockbuster, a good fifty years before film existed and a century prior to Star Wars. Filmmakers and storytellers worldwide owe Mr. Dumas for creating the conventions that ultimately resulted, not only in Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but almost any serialized adventure/drama.
Today, Thee Musketeers is published as a single “novel” and the full D’Artagnan Romances as a trilogy (even when Twenty Years Later is almost impossible to find in your local Barnes & Noble, and people only remember The Man in the Iron Mask because of DiCaprio). But it was originally published in serialized fashion. It was literature for the masses, today known as paperback fiction, airport literature, soap operas or the summer blockbuster. Hell, just take a look at Dumas’ credits and you’ll understand. *
But enough about Mr. Dumas, the question at hand is; what makes this new adaptation of The Three Musketeers (AKA Book One of The D’Artagnan Romances) different from the numerous other adaptations of the same novel. Well, to be honest, besides the 3D, a few airships, some cartoonishly exuberant set-designs and Mila Jovovich’s terrible acting, almost everything is the same. Apparently to most critics this can make all the difference in the world.
Yet the core story and characters remain the same. Their story is as well known as their motto, “all for one, and one for all”. But just incase you happen to be terribly unfamiliar with world culture here is a brief synopsis. The Three Musketeers centers on young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), the son of a former Musketeer, as he travels alongside three veteran Musketeers: Athos (Mathew Mcfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans). These Musketeers are sort of the Secret Service for 17th century France, working for King Louis XIII (that’s 13th) and, by the time of the story his spoiled son, Louis XIV (14th). Although these monarchs are some of the worst tyrants of history, the story always played them as spoiled misguided children. The real villains of the story are the king’s advisor Cardinal Richelieu (Cristoph Waltz), and the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom); two men with the aspirations of a James Bond villain, and who in history very much behaved like actual James Bond villains. And like any story of its kind there is a double-crossing femme fatale, Milady de Winter (Mila Jovovich), and a romantic interest for our young hero, Constance Bonacieux (Gabriella Wilde).
If you are already thinking, “OMG this sounds like a horrible cliché!” you are missing the point. Clichés are clichés because they work, and The Three Musketeers is the original cliché. Any adaptation of it, should therefore also be a cliché So, this film gets a free pass.
Lets get one thing straight; 3D is annoying. Period. But I can safely say Paul W. S. Anderson is one of the few directors out there that knows how to annoy well and with gusto. I never understood why some filmmakers choose to have a “subtle” use of 3D. Thankfully Anderson has no idea how to be subtle. The Resident Evil Afterlife, was the first time I saw 3D, actually give an otherwise flat film some dimension. I can say the same goes for The Three Musketeers; Anderson has also learned and improved on his direction of 3D. And this time around I will say it is needed. Anderson has also polished his direction of action and choreography; his action sequences, unlike those filled with Bayhem, are cohesive, well paced, and easy to follow. A strong argument can be made that movies, specifically action movies, now need two directors at their helm: one for action and one for character. But this of course will never happen, because no one likes to split credits.
Anyways, if you are in for some good times at the movies that include swashbuckling, silly story telling, airships, cheesy lines, and a preposterous use of 3D, I suggest you buy yourself a good size bucket of popcorn and go watch P.W. Anderson’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Some purist English teacher out there might say that you should read the book instead, and criticize the movie for skipping half of the second act, but something deep down tells me that Dumas himself would very much enjoy this adaptation. That being said, I would also recommend the books (plural); they are awesome.
It also has airships, which were not in the original publications. But my guess is that the only reason Dumas did not write them in was because WWI hadn’t popularized them yet.
* Dumas also penned: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Nutcracker, Robin Hood, The Knight of Sait-Hermaine, The Valois Romances, The Two Dianas, The Marie Antoinette Romances, and the list could go on and on. The Count of Monte Cristo, and his three Romances are mostly known for bringing back the idea of serialized fiction to the world since The 1001 Arabian Nights were written.