When I first heard that a new version of The Three Musketeers was being made by Paul W.S. Anderson I initially thought that he was a bad choice for the material, that he would just end up making something ridiculous. Now that I’ve actually seen the movie, I’m certain that he was a bad choice for the material, because he did in fact make something ridiculous. You know this story by now, it’s been around for like 175 years or something, so too much plot summary probably isn’t necessary. There are three famous Musketeers, the king’s personal soldiers, Athos (Matthew MacFayden), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans). They used to be big time, but now they’re out of a job because a corrupt Cardinal (Christoph Waltz) is taking control of France and instituting his personal guard as the new power in the nation. Also there’s a young chap name D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who has traveled to Paris to become a Musketeer, but he finds the place in disarray. Backstabbings and power plays commence.
But let’s get back to how bad most everything in this movie is. The most egregious of all the offenses this new Three Musketeers commits is the punishment it doles out to its characters in the form of horrible dialogue. Never have you come across a script with more hackneyed, generic movie clichés than this. Everything that comes out of the characters’ mouths is clunky and unnatural. It feels like the movie went through absolutely zero rewrites, that the first thoughtless word choice was always the one used. It seems like the actors are just reading from the outline, or maybe a script written by children for a school play.
It would take a powerful group of talented performers to elevate this material, but transcendent performances are another thing that this movie lacks. We get a diverse array of poor performances: from the good actor sleepwalking through a thankless part (Waltz), to the bad actor completely embarrassing himself in a hammy joke of a performance (Orlando Bloom), to the charisma free blank page who has no business being in a mainstream film at all due to lack of screen presence (Lerman). The Three Musketeers is a smorgasbord of bad acting. Only Stevenson comes out unscathed. His charming rogue routine fits in well enough with the material that he doesn’t seem out of place, and he manages to be the one actor who seems completely at home diving into the crap and keeping a smile on his face. This guy may be bulletproof.
The score is one of the worst that I’ve ever heard. Every scene is colored with too on-the-nose, too overpowering, cheesy music. This feels less like the score to a mainstream film and more like the music from a Saturday morning cartoon. I hope that it was cobbled together from bits and pieces of public domain tracks and nobody actually paid for it. That would make me sad.
Also, there’s comedy in this movie. Most of it comes from either a bumbling, slapstick servant in the Musketeers’ employ (James Corden) or the “witty” banter that the characters trade back and forth. Never is The Three Musketeers more lame than when it’s trying to be funny. Corden’s character feels like he was fired from the set of Robin Hood: Men in Tights for being unfunny and just wandered into the background of this non-comedy to do schtick anyway. The banter traded between the heroes and the villains feels like it would be at home being delivered by a teenage starlet on a Disney show and the actor playing her annoying little brother. Anderson would have been much better off treating this as straight action and not going for the light-hearted adventure feel.
When all of the periphery elements of a movie are bad like this, you get sucked out of the story and you start to pick it apart. You start to take a fun tale that people have loved for generations and you begin to notice how many coincidences the progression of the plot depends on. How ridiculous much of what happens is. You start wondering why every person that a new guy in town meets on the streets of Paris ends up being a high ranking member of the royal court. That shouldn’t be the case when there’s sword fights and explosions going on.
The one thing that this movie does have going for it is that it gets pretty entertaining when all of the action is happening. The fights and chases are very “in the now” in how they are presented: they contain overly choreographed, dance-like fight sequences, and the elaborate action is highlighted by the ‘slow everything down and then speed everything up’ trick that everyone making action movies is using these days, but at least it’s all easy to follow. It thankfully isn’t filmed solely in too-close closeups and chopped to pieces by too-frantic editing to the point that you have no idea what’s happening.
Plus all of the action is so huge and over the top that it revels in its nonsense to the point of giddiness. I mean that as a good thing. This is a stupid movie in general, so why not go stupid big with the action sequences? Things are so exaggerated that we get a dogfight between a couple of airships equipped with flamethrowers and machine guns. In the 17th century. We watch four guys take on entire armies without breaking a sweat. It’s all presented as being fun rather than harrowing, so it works. Every moment that swords were clashing or a big stunt was taking place The Three Musketeers had me diverted. Unfortunately, that’s only about a third of the film, and everything else is beyond horrible.
Especially any attempts it makes at developing romantic subplots… don’t even get me started.
The Upside: The action is competently filmed and contains enough escapist glee to keep this from being a complete failure. And for undiscerning audiences that may be enough to give it a pass.
The Downside: Literally everything in this movie is bad other than Ray Stevenson being a generally awesome guy and the action not disappointing. After watching the whole thing you’ll probably have to give your eyes a couple days rest after all of the rolling that they’re going to do.
On the Side: During the opening title sequence we see a model version of Europe that looks like something Doc Brown would have created but not had time to paint or build to scale. It looks pretty cool in 3D and is a stylish way to keep the audience abreast of where the characters are throughout the movie. Unfortunately, it also points out how little the rest of the film utilizes the fact that it’s being presented in 3D at all. It takes about two minutes to forget that you’re watching a 3D movie, because the depth of focus is barely distinguishable from one in 2D. If you have the option, don’t shell out the extra coin to wear the glasses.