If one can ignore the glaring anachronisms, the unnecessary 3D effects, the frequently painful dialogue, accents that are all over the damn place, and the accursed haunting nightmare that is Orlando Bloom’s hair in Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers, well… you’re still left with a rather mediocre affair. It’s a brutally bombastic blight of a film, a weird mishmash of stylistic elements, and yet there are moments of genuine enjoyment to be had. Unfortunately, I can’t say that there are enough of those to make for a consistently solid movie-going experience.
I can say this for The Three Musketeers: out of the numerous adaptations of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, it surprised me by sticking relatively close to the original story. Young hothead D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) leaves his rural life to travel to Paris to become one of the famous Musketeers. Once there, through a series of misadventures, he ends up in separate duels with the three most famous of the Musketeers — Porthos (Ray Stevenson), Athos (Matthew MacFayden), and Aramis (Luke Evans). Before they can start, they end up battling a horde of guards working for the sinister Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). It sets into motion their efforts to prevent war between England and France by recovering a stolen necklace. It’s all there — the stolen necklace, Milday De Winter (Milla Jovovich), the innocent Queen Anne (Juno Temple), D’Artagnan’s love interest Constance (Gabriella Wilde), and the Duke of Buckingham (the aforementioned hairzilla that is Orlando Bloom).
It’s remarkable, really, how well it sticks to Dumas’ story. What’s even more remarkable is how utterly shitballs crazy it is despite that. In addition to all of the conventional parts of the tales, it also features gunfights, giant steampunk-esque flying airships, and Milady De Winter channeling Resident Evil’s Alice via acrobatic flipping and kicking and, of course, cartwheeling and sliding through booby trapped hallways. Anderson can’t fucking help himself — if he makes a movie, it’s gotta have Milla (his real-life wife), and she’s gotta kick ass and do backflips in a narrow-ass hallway. I think it was in their wedding vows.
The film is a swirling smorgasbord of medieval/ninja fucknuttery, and there are times when it actually works in its favor. There are some damn impressive setpieces, some pretty fun action scenes, and the costume and set design is pretty amazing. When the dialogue is shut down and the action kicks in, there are times when it really works. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies also features some stunningly stilted, terrible dialogue, and every serious moment or declaration of noble intent (and oh, there are so, so many) feels like it was written by a 12 year-old writing his first fantasy short story. To make matters worse, Anderson gathered together a rather impressive cast, and then forced them to speak these lines, and they collectively seem more embarrassed at any given moment than convincing in any sense. They’re all awkward, but no one suffers worse than poor Matthew MacFayden. As the de facto leader of the group of heroes, he’s made to deliver the lion’s share, and he appears to be uttering each trite proclamation immediately after swallowing something rather distasteful. Christoph Waltz seems to be enjoying himself, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t — he simply tapped into inner Colonel Landa, but with less antisemitism. As for Milla, she’s Alice, but with a more wicked gleam in her eye, but even her loveliness doesn’t escape unscathed. Also, I think Logan Lerman might actually be a robot.
I won’t even talk about how he completely wasted the talents of Til Schweiger and Mads Mikkelson, because it’ll just annoy me further.
Although sitting through The Three Musketeers was an exhausting affair, it’s easy to see what Anderson was trying to do. A big-budget, kaboom-heavy adaptation of a classic work, but with more tongue-in-cheek humor and no sense of technological history. Which is weird, but OK. I can live with that. And as I said, when it works, it’s fun. But it doesn’t work often enough, and it’s certainly not aided by the fact that its humor is often hideously unfunny, with punchlines that plunged to their deaths in the crowded theater that I was in. It’s made more uncomfortable because the writers are obviously trying so very hard, but it’s all so clumsy and inept that it’s almost pitiful.
Paul W.S. Anderson is one of the kings of crap cinema. He’s Uwe Boll with a bigger budget and a star-powered wife, a proven moneymaker with a carefree-yet-idiotic vision that insists on outdoing each successive scene, regardless of how nonsensical it is. Strangely, I thought he might be able to pull off this giant pile of brain-boiled crazy, if for no reason other than he didn’t have to deal with writing the source material. The man has a serious visual flair, and with the right actors and a built-in story, it seemed like it might just be insane enough to work. Not so much — instead, he focuses too much on trying to be clever, on explosions and gunfights (or musket fights, if you must), and on his goddamned addiction to slow-motion effects. In short, he’s Paul W.S. Anderson, and he’s gonna Paul W.S. Anderson the balls off of every project he undertakes. Despite the best of intentions, that’s what the Three Musketeers ends up being — a classic novel that he frantically dry humped into becoming a garish, brightly colored, idiotic-yet-quite pretty, occasionally entertaining mess.