'Three Musketeers' heavy on effects
By Mark Jenkins
Saturday, Oct 22, 2011
Adventure novelist Alexandre Dumas was a crowd-pleaser in his day, so he probably wouldn't mind that the latest movie based on his "The Three Musketeers" cribs from steampunk, Hong Kong action flicks and "The Pirates of Caribbean" series. He'd just wish these borrowings were more entertaining.
A rare PG-13 film that feels more like PG, the 20th or so cinematic adaptation of Dumas's 1844 novel may amuse kids who can bear movies set way back in the 17th century. The original tale's erotic intrigue has been cooled to rom-com temperature, and there's plenty of slapstick among the swordplay. Surely a movie with this much chamber-potty humor is not meant for grownups.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson - the "Resident Evil" guy, not the "Boogie Nights" one - this "Musketeers" generally follows Dumas's plot. But many embellishments (and occasional bowdlerizations) dramatically alter the tone. The comic-book style and 3D CGI effects turn a story loosely based on historical events into one that's utterly detached from anybody's real life, now or then.
Young d'Artagnan (dreary Logan Lerman) travels to Paris to join the king's musketeers, only to find dashing Athos (Matthew MacFadyen), brawny Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and devout Aramis (Luke Evans) in grumpy retirement. Conniving Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) dominates callow King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), and the rogue's private guard has supplanted the loyal musketeers. Richelieu's troops are led by eye-patched Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), who takes an immediate dislike to d'Artagnan.
To consolidate his power, Richelieu intends to cause a war with England by persuading Louis that his queen (Juno Temple) is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham ("Pirates" veteran Orlando Bloom). The evidence of the queen's supposed unfaithfulness is an ornate diamond necklace, snatched from the royal boudoir by one of the cardinal's agents, Milady (Milla Jovovich), Athos's vampy ex. The musketeers, reactivated and now numbering four, travel to London to retrieve it.
The cross-channel mission is in Dumas's book, but the mode of transportation isn't: Our heroes cruise in an airborne craft that's part galleon, part zeppelin. The three veteran Musketeers (plus the double-dealing Milady) stole the plans for this airship in the movie's zippy if preposterous prologue.
That sequence, set in Venice, suggests that Athos and his pals were trained as ninjas and Navy SEALs as well as swordsmen. They arrive stealthily and crack the code that opens - what else? - da Vinci's cache of secret blueprints. To reach the vault, Milady must pirouette through a hail of bullet-like spheres, a moment that's more "Matrix" than "Musketeers."
A German-French-British production, "The Three Musketeers" doesn't worry much about dialogue or accents. Perhaps expecting to earn most of their money from dubbed versions, the filmmakers allow Lerman to speak American amid a mostly British cast, and let their devious French cardinal use a Germanic lilt to deliver such feeble bon mots as "evil's just a point of view."
The filmmakers do better with action scenes and production design. Thanks to a video-game approach to space and movement, neither the battles nor the buildings look remotely genuine. But the elaborate costumes and CGI architecture are impressively detailed, and there's a credible sense of risk in d'Artagnan and Rochefort's climactic duel atop - where else? - Notre Dame cathedral.
What's lacking is a swashbuckling sensibility. The movie needn't realistically evoke the 17th century, but it should have something of the spirit of Dumas's 1840s, or Errol Flynn's 1930s. Instead, it's blandly contemporary. This "Three Musketeers" packs all the chivalry, heroism and camaraderie of Wii Fencing.