It doesn’t take long for director Paul W.S. Anderson — the man behind two “Resident Evil” movies, “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” and “Death Race” — to put his own dubious stamp on the latest big screen adaptation of “The Three Musketeers.” It’only takes about ten minutes into the movie until he sends his wife and longtime muse Milla Jovovich running and then sliding across the floor to avoid gunfire (in slow motion, of course). You’d be forgiven if for a brief moment you thought you were watching a scene from a period movie version of the zombie killing franchise. Yet, for all the gadgety weapons, battle ready airships, cleavage plunging dresses and outlandish facial hair, “The Three Musketeers” is a dreary bore that manages to squander the game cast and impressive sets under dull political intrigue and rote explosions.
The film kicks off with a useless voice over that essentially establishes this movie takes place in Ye Olden Tymes, before kicking off with a heist sequence that includes the aforementioned Jovovich as Milady de Winter, teaming with Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) to boost some plans from Leonardo Da Vinci‘s vault for those floating battleships. Safely escaped and celebrating with some wine, there is one more twist to come as Milady sells them out to the Duke of Buckingham, who we know is evil because his mustache and goatee are longer than everyone else’s and every line is delivered with a sneer by Orlando Bloom.
Anyway, fast forward a year and the three musketeers are now just drifting along in France struggling to survive. Athos, who was once in love with Milady, is now a drunk. Porthos keeps a jovial demeanour but relies on the financial kindness of women to keep clothes on his back and a roof over his head, while Aramis now works for the city handing out tickets to owners who neglect to clean up their horse’s shit (seriously). This is how Aramis first crosses paths with the young, hot-headed D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) and in short not only has he challenged all three musketeers to a duel, but they soon bond in battle with Cardinal Richelieu’s (Christoph Waltz) men. Eager to follow in the musketeer ways, D’Artagnan is quick to learn they’ve long since given up on that whole “All for one, and one for all” thing, lacking the heart and a true, worthy cause to put their swords behind.
And this is where the movie somewhat grinds to halt. The middle section of the film all but dispenses with our heroes altogether while all the pieces of the conspiracy between Richelieu and Milady are put into place, so that Athos, Aramis and Porthos can be convinced by D’Artagnan to get back into action. It turns out the worthy cause is actually just boosting some diamonds from the Duke of Buckingham, but oh yeah, it might stop a war or something. Explained in an extremely dull second act, not even Waltz’s natural charm can come to the fore, smothered under a ridiculous wig, stuffy costuming and banal dialogue. Even Mads Mikkelsen — best known as Le Chiffre is the Daniel Craig James Bond flicks — has his natural presence emasculated by having to cower as he continues to fail on orders given to him by the Cardinal. A smarter director would have played up the tension between the pair, but sadly aside from a couple of short scenes, they rarely share any screen time together. And it’s this inability to find what kind of story he wants to tell, settle on a tone (is this high camp? an action film? both? neither?), or even embrace some of the more fantastical elements that handicaps the movie right from the first moment.
At first, it seems like we’re going to be getting a story simply about Athos, Aramis and Porthos, but that turns out be a prelude for D’Artagnan leaving us to think that the movie will be about his journey to becoming a sword-wielding dispenser of justice. But with essentially four leads (not to mention an unofficial fifth musketeer, the rotund bumbling Planchet played by James Corden) there simply isn’t enough time to give anyone an in-depth character treatment so they are reduced to a bunch of tics. And this isn’t helped when all four suddenly disappear for a large chunk of the movie. But moreover, Anderson isn’t sure if he wants to play the material straight-faced or not. There is an extended running gag about clothing in the film that points to an arch, somewhat self-deprecating sense of humor that is absent in rest of the movie, even with all the musty, unintentionally funny and portentous dialogue. A slight tweak in delivery and “The Three Musketeers” could have been an interesting send up of the genre while still providing some thrills, but that would only work if Anderson made the most of the outlandish premise. For a movie that climaxes with dueling battling airships, there is a shocking lack of wonder, wit and amazement at what surely would have been an incredible moment for all the characters involved at that particular moment in history. These are flying boats with fucking cannons yet everyone is pretty blasé about it, seemingly instantly unafraid of heights or not at all stunned that they are sailing amongst the clouds. In fact, they handle the new invention with such ease and the sequences are shot with such little imagination, that the audience by turn is equally indifferent.
In fact, Anderson seems so out of sorts with the period setting he only really shows any flair when shooting scenes of his wife, whom he gives an extended sequence where she invades the Queen’s quarters half dressed with the assistance of rappelling equipment strapped to her undergarments. It’s one of the few times Anderson has any inspiration, which is disappointing for a movie with as many hidden passages, cool toys and outrageous acting as this. Of course, a scene is tacked on to the end of the movie that promises a sequel if people line up to buy tickets for this one, but we can’t imagine anyone will want to spend any more time with four heros as dull as these guys (and memo Hollywood: Logan Lerman is not a leading man yet). Another film where 3D is utilized for no real added benefit, with a plodding nearly two-hour run time and a movie that begs to be far more entertaining than it is, “The Three Musketeers” never unsheathes swashbuckling excitement. [D+]