Review: The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers (2011)
The Three Musketeers (2011)

Alexandre Dumas’ Les Trois Mousquetaires, or The Three Musketeers, began life as a serialised adventure in the mid-nineteenth century in the newspaper Le Siècle, but has since been republished as a novel countless times all around the world. It has formed the basis of numerous film adaptations virtually since the birth of cinema, including Richard Lester’s two-part film in the 1970s and more recently, Disney’s Young Guns-inspired piece with Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie “Winning” Sheen. So why would cinema need to turn back to this timeless tale? Well, it’s never been shot in 3D before, and it certainly hasn’t been the subject of a reworking by Paul W.S. Anderson, who counts Mortal Kombat, Alien Vs. Predator and Resident Evil: Afterlife amongst his cinematic crimes.

After being betrayed by Milady (Milla Jovovich, Bringing Up Bobby) during a mission to retrieve some secret plans, Athos (Matthew Macfayden, Robin Hood) , Porthos (Ray Stevenson, Thor) and Aramis (Luke Evans, Tamara Drewe) are temporarily defeated by the nefarious Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom, The Good Doctor). A year later, they eke out an existence in Paris as social pariahs. King Louis XIII’s (Freddie Fox, St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold) musketeers have been disbanded, a result of the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz, Water for Elephants), who controls the monarch as his puppet. When the naive young country boy D’Artagnon arrives in the city, he immediately runs afoul of the Cardinal’s henchman Captain Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen, Valhalla Rising), before getting on the wrong side of the three musketeers. Soon they must band together to defend France and the virtue of Queen Anne (Juno Temple, Dirty Girl). All for one, and one for all!

The Three Musketeers begins with all the excesses that one would expect from an Anderson film, complete with an Athos and Aramis who are just as much derivative of Stormtroopers and the Batman as they are of Dumas’ musketeers. From the introduction of the Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief ) as D’Artagnon, the tale begins to take on a familiar passage. The classic sequences in which D’Artagnon challenges all three musketeers to a duel will be recognisable to those who have witnessed any previous incarnations of the story, and the subsequent sequence in which the four of them take on a small battalion of the Cardinal’s guard is classic swashbuckling stuff.

Anderson then cranks the whole thing up to 11, in his typical fashion, filling the screen with lush 3D imagery, impossible airships and acrobatic ninja prowess that might be anachronistic, and certainly not in the book, but goddamn if it isn’t one hell of a ride. It’s big, it’s dumb and it’s fun, and as long as you except those three simple but incredibly important propositions going in, you are going to get along just fine with The Three Musketeers. This is not high literature, after all, and each generation necessarily brings with it the sensibilities of the times. Our times happen to have chain-gun airship canons, that’s all.

The cast are clearly enjoying themselves, although performances and casting are often a rapier stab in the dark. Waltz replays his Inglourious Basterds villain with a clumsy chess metaphor to represent his mad strategy skills, while Orlando Bloom is loving the chance to play a moustache-twirling baddie in a successful break from his foppish heroes. Of the musketeers proper, Aramis and Porthos work best in terms of pure caricatures, although Athos’ deep-voiced brooding is a little much at times. Similarly, Mads Mikkelsen never has to do much more than stare menacingly out of his one good eye. Jovovich may be a mandatory inclusion for husband Anderson, but she does give a nice bit of sex appeal and oompf lacking from the similarly underwritten Constance (Gabriella Wilde, St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold). It’s also great to see Juno Temple increasing her exposure here, as she’ll soon break big with The Dark Knight Rises after rocking the Brits and the indie circuit for a few years. The Three Musketeers is bigger than any of the individuals in it. A backhanded compliment perhaps, but fun popcorn fodder nonetheless.

The Three Musketeers may not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to either: it’s a throwback to the kind of over-the-top classic fun that doesn’t pause long enough for us to examine the details.

The Three Musketeers (2011) - Christoph Waltz and Milla Jovovich

The Three Musketeers is released in Australia on 20 October 2011 from Hoyts Distribution.