There have been more than 20 live action film versions of Alexandre Dumas’ novel Les Trois Mousquetaires, plus a handful of animated versions and TV series. Dumas’ mix of high romance, swashbuckling adventure, and the intrigue and pomp of Louis XIII’s court have proved an irresistible draw to filmmakers. For British audiences Richard Lester’s 1970‘s films are probably the definitive versions (although for those of a certain age it might be the animated Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, a fondly remembered Spanish/Japanese series from the 80s). However there have been Mexican versions, a Soviet musical version, a porn version, and an upcoming version from knock-off studio The Asylum anticipating the success of this latest big budget rendering. So what does the oft-derided director Paul WS Anderson have to bring to this party? Predictably, it’s 3D.
This new version takes a some of the framework of Dumas’ novel; d’Artagnan (Lerman) leaves his family to join the Musketeers and on route he is waylaid and humiliated by the evil Comte de Rochfort (Mikkelson), the leader of the Parisian city guard, and right-hand man of scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz). Richelieu wants to ignite a war with England for reasons I frankly missed, and has enlisted the aid of the treacherous but beautiful Milady de Winter (Jovovich). Richelieu is manipulating France’s young King Louis XIII (Fox), a man more interested in fashion than politics and romantically tongue-tied in the presence of his Queen (Temple). D’Artagnon does eventually join forces with the musketeers, falls in love with the Queen’s handmaiden Constance (Wilde), and is embroiled in a race to save the Queen’s honour (in the form of a stolen necklace) from the dastardly Duke of Buckingham (Bloom).
This is to say the least, a complicated story, but Anderson and writers Litvak and Davies feel the need to spice it up, adding steampunk flying airships and an opening sequence where the Musketeers raid a vault in Venice evading Indiana Jones-style subterranean traps. Among Anderson’s previous credits (or atrocities depending on your point of view) are the video game adaptations Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil (and sequels); during this opening section he seems to be borrowing liberally from the Assassin’s Creed games. Jovovich in particular seems to be playing a kick-ass video game character rather than anything resembling a human being, right down to the inappropriate use of a corset.
Visually the film is stylish, colourful and expensive looking. The obvious deficiencies of the screenplay can be rationalised away for the first third of the film as the senses are ravished by action sequences, stunning costumes and lavish sets. But as the film progresses it becomes bogged down in sub plot upon sub plot, and it becomes glaringly obvious that the story has not been thought through. The musketeers are woefully underwritten, to the point that it is actually quite difficult to distinguish between Macfadyen’s Athos and Evans’s Aramis. Both seem tortured, wear black and indiscriminately kill an endless supply of the Cardinal’s guards. Porthos (Stevenson), often the comic relief, is also given very little work with. The lion’s share of the humour – and I use the term at great protest – is given to the Musketeer’s manservant Planchet, played by Corden, whose comedy highpoint is a scene where a bird shits on his head ... twice.
Elsewhere in the cast there isn’t enough of Mikkleson’s splendidly evil Rochfort, there is far too much of Bloom’s Buckingham (Bloom is no better as a villain than as a hero), and Waltz does that performance from Inglorious Basterds again! Only Fox’s outrageously camp King Louis seems to get the right amount of screentime. At the centre of all this is Lerman looking and sounding like a Californian beach dude as d’Artagnion.
Anderson mounts one terrific early scene of swashbuckling action as d’Artagnion and the musketeers fight a pitched battle against Richelieu’s guards. The action slows down and speeds up to show the grace and skill of the swordsman. Sure it’s a technique ripped off from Zak Snyder’s 300 and various console games, but it is effective. Unfortunately the film then moves on to one large scale SFX sequence after another, none of them as exciting and effective as well mounted physical stuntwork and derring do. The 3D, while not distracting, fails to add anything substantial to the film apart from making the swords look really pointy. Cut down considerably, this could have made a great Adam and the Ants music video. As it stands, it is one of Anderson’s better efforts but is hamstrung by a terrible script.