‘The Three Musketeers’: Like Putting a Silk Hat on a Pig

[15 March 2012]

By Brent McKnight

The story of The Three Musketeers should be familiar to you by now, after dozen adaptations: Cocky young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) heads off to 17th century Paris to join the Musketeers, the King’s personal guard. There he meets three of the legendary swashbucklers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), who aren’t exactly the dashing, gallant heroes he expected. With his newfound comrades in arms, D’Artagnan has to foil a plot by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) and Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich). Only they can stop these dastardly villains from ruining France for everyone.

Paul W.S. Anderson’s film simplifies the hell out of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, plays fast and loose with French history, and, let’s just say it, takes some liberties. Liberties like a wacky sidekick for the Musketeers to heap abuse upon, and hover ships with machineguns and flamethrowers. That sounds like it could be fun, right? It isn’t.

Early on there are a handful of sword fights, most notably between the four main characters and the Cardinal’s guard, that are decent. The action is heavily edited, but not in the frenetic, Michael Bay, a cut every half-second kind of way, and the fights are entertaining. That is until Anderson does his thing. Most known as he director of the Resident Evil franchise, Anderson just can’t help himself from trying to give every action sequence his personal stamp. This involves a hyper-stylized approach that uses gimmicks like unnecessary slow motion, and a slew of other tired, recycled Matrix style tricks. He has perfectly serviceable action scenes going then screws them up by trying to make them look like a janky music video.

Eventually things go completely off the deep end. Every detail of The Three Musketeers is way over the top, from the gaudy court costumes to Orlando Bloom doing his best impersonation of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow to silly action. There’s an awkward teen romance subplot between the King and Queen, and there are tons of James Bond style gadgets and gizmos that are clunky and out of place.

The biggest problem, and there are many, is that the movie wastes too much time trying to be clever and cute, succeeding on neither front, instead of trying to tell a coherent story or have compelling characters. Everyone is squandered, and every character is a hollow shell. Stevenson’s strength is as a tough as nails action figure, but he’s a blowhard and buffoon who shambles around the frame. For some reason Til Schweiger and Mads Mikkelsen both agreed to appear in Musketeers.

But Waltz, Waltz is the biggest disappointment of all. As the world saw in Inglorious Basterds, he plays a terrifying villain. Too bad he hasn’t had a part worth a damn since. Green Hornet squandered his talent, but The Three Musketeers is even worse. Richelieu is such a boring antagonist. His plot hinges on the King and Queen getting into a marital spat and the King wanting to go to war over wounded pride. That’s the best they could come up with? It’s such a paper-thin plot. At least Buckingham has a flourish too him, however derivative it may be. There’s no menace to Richelieu, no personality, he doesn’t do anything, and you never once feel there is even a remote chance that his idiotic plan will succeed.

And the end is a complete and absolute cop out. You’ve never seen such shameless attempts to set up a sequel or franchise. Good thing The Three Musketeers tanked at the box office, otherwise we’d be getting these crammed down our throats for the next decade.

The Three Musketeers is a catastrophic failure on almost every level. It could have be been a moderately entertaining swordplay actioner, emphasis on could have, but it is so devoid of tension, so vapid and awkwardly constructed, that as you watch the action unfold on screen you wonder, what the hell is the point?

The Blu-ray comes stacked with bonus features which, to be honest, feel a bit like putting a silk hat on a pig, or some other quaint colloquialism for dressing up a turd. A quartet of featurettes adds up to nine minutes of content. This is primarily concerned with Anderson talking about always wanting to make a swashbuckling movie, Orlando Bloom’s turn as a minor villain, the special effects used in The Three Musketeers, and how the production used German sets and locations to stand in for 17th century France. It’s a light touch on each topic, and doesn’t add much.

Eleven deleted extended scenes have a similar lack of impact. The bulk of these are already extant scenes with a few seconds of unnecessary additional footage thrown in, and they were trimmed to keep an already overlong movie from spiraling even further out of control. The Three Musketeers is already one of those movies that halfway through you start checking how much longer is left, only to be met with disappointment when you realize how much longer is left.

A commentary track is standard fare if you’re into that sort of thing, but hands down the best extra on The Three Musketeers Blu-ray is the “Access: Three Musketeers” feature. As you watch the movie it allows you to veer off into videos, interviews, and tidbits that explore certain aspects of the film, and you can alter the settings so that the factoids and random nuggets of trivia pop up on screen. These cover topics from filming to fights to Dumas’s original and everything in between. Playing around is fun since you can shape things to fit your interests. But again, silk hat, pig.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/155952-the-three-musketeers/