It seems like there was one type of phrase that came to mind during the making of this movie: “This is not your father’s Three Musketeers”. In the era of blockbuster filmmaking that audiences now live in and in the wake of somewhat self-aware period action films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Sherlock Holmes, the clear logic was to take this latest adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel and apply a steampunk-style reinterpretation of the material. This new adaptation from director Paul W.S. Anderson, who is content with slumming in C-movie filmmaking, is a pure exercise in style-over-substance, filling the screen with excessive explosions, slo-mo, and very campy characters and storytelling (and all filmed in glorious 3D of course). Strangely, I also have to add that the film is, at times, genuinely entertaining. There are certainly better ways to appreciate this story, but I can’t deny the small amount of appeal that this film does have, because who doesn’t appreciate a good swashbuckler?
Besides the various uses of style, which I’ll get into later, the film’s plot is largely the same as before…for the most part. The film begins with a Mission: Impossible-style action/heist sequence, which has the three Musketeers, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos (Matthew McFayden, Luke Evans, and Ray Stevenson) working with the deadly assassin and Athos’ love, Milady (Milla Jovovich) to steal a secret design from an overly elaborate, booby-trapped vault. After their success, Milady steals the design, betraying them for the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). The Musketeers are left distraught and eventually become rogue warriors of sorts.
A year later, young d’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) leaves home to embark on his journey to Paris, with hopes of becoming a Musketeer himself. This becomes more difficult than he had anticipated, winding up as a thorn in the side of each of the three Musketeers within the span of a few minutes upon his arrival. After a combined effort to ward off troops under orders of the secretly evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), d’Artagnan becomes an ally with the Musketeers. As the real plot kicks into gear, we find that there are many conspiracies and nefarious acts being worked out by the Cardinal, the Duke of Buckingham, and Milady against King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), with only the Musketeers at his side to fight for the honor of their country. At this point, I should also explain that the film has giant air ship battles!
I don’t think this movie is a disaster (never really the best way to compliment a movie, but bear with me). While everything about this movie is way over the top, including the 3D (when I originally saw the film theatrically), it is played very lightheartedly for the most part. Really, the only time that this movie betrays itself is when it attempts to get serious about certain aspects of the story. Why should I have to care about lovelorn Athos when the film gives us crazy air ship battles? There is a level of melodrama present in this film that takes away from the cheesy fun that this movie is clearly trying to have with its audience. However, despite the inconsistent tone, there are a fair number of good things to take away from this very silly experience.
There are two great additions to the cast that certainly made the film a lot more fun. One is Freddie Fox as King Louis, whom I had never seen before. He managed to bring a lot of comedic weight to his part, making a very boring character on paper come alive. The other, very surprisingly, is Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham. Apparently having the eccentricities of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack rub off on him, Bloom is deliciously over the top here as the devious, mustache twirling baddie. It’s the kind of cast-against-type performance that I look forward to seeing from a guy who generally plays things very straight. Besides some weak links, the rest of the cast is a lot of fun as well. As a fan of HBO’s Rome, I love seeing Ray Stevenson in anything and he is perfectly suited as Porthos. Waltz has a bit of fun as well, despite slumming it in another villain role. And the generally cool and usually evil Mads Mikkelsen pops up as another one-eyed foe (recall La Chifre from Casino Royale), lending a bit more evil gravitas to the film.
The weak links I referred to are Milla Jovovich, who is certainly here for the sake of her looks, athletic skill, and not much else and Logan Lermen as d’Artagnon. I am aware that his character is supposed to be quite arrogant and smug about his skills and goals, but Lermen doesn’t quite transfer those qualities into becoming a charismatic young rogue, which makes his character all the more irritating. It is unfortunate since watching the Musketeers is so much fun, but d’Artagnon is the true central character of the film and distracts from the other three.
As far as this production goes, Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, the Resident Evil series, Death Race) has always been good when it comes to art and production design. The movie certainly looks great for a big studio film version of The Three Musketeers, but it is definitely all about more being more. All of the action has been amped up to fly over-the-top at a constant level, with epic swashbuckling, guns, explosions, and the aforementioned air ship battles. There is level of steampunk-type qualities added to this film, which certainly becomes a way of having a new take on this material (and not in a terrible Wild Wild West sort of way); however, there is an issue that plagues this film further, taking away from that added style.
The script is pretty dull. I’ve previously brought up ‘Pirates’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’, which are apt comparisons and are plainly better due to the fact that they did not only bring in a fair amount of style and exciting action, but were also fairly witty and managed to provide a lot of fun characterization to the proceedings. ‘Musketeers’ does not really manage this. The story never really becomes clever, it more or less functions as a way to move characters (each only as interesting as the actor portraying them decides to make them) from one action set piece to another. The sense of pacing in this film is fine enough, but the adaptation of the material doesn’t really lend much when it comes to explaining the plot. Audience’s intelligence may not be insulted by this film, but the work of Dumas kinda is.
Despite my quarrels with the silliness that is presented with this film, it does have a reasonable amount of fun while it lasts. Some of the actors are more into it (and in on the joke) than others, but it is fairly enjoyable throughout. A good swashbuckling scene tends to please me for the most part. Throw in some clever dialogue and plotting and this could have been an even better success, but I never expect much from Paul W. S. Anderson’s films at this point, so I wasn’t too annoyed with what I got. Judging this film, all for one, it’s a very mediocre victory.
It is somewhat annoying that films like this (mediocre ones) get such amazing video transfers, while other, much better films sometimes struggle. Regardless, The Three Musketeers features a pretty fantastic 1080p video transfer that looks pretty damn gorgeous on Blu-ray. The benefit of having great production value is how solid everything looks and this release gets everything right. The colors, textures, visual effects, and other elements all look great on this disc. Little else to say here, beyond the fact that the video presentation is pretty fantastic.
Copy and paste the video review and change some of the words around, because the disc features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is equally fantastic. What else can be said, on a technical level, this is a pretty great Blu-ray disc.
The special features are all presented in HD and do enough to fill out the extra space left on the disc, after providing such spectacular technical qualities. There is a good amount of informative material here.
Audio Commentary with Filmmakers: Director/Producer Paul W.S. Anderson and Producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer go over the making of the film with a fairly lighthearted tone. While way too self-congratulatory, there is quite a bit of insight regarding the making of the film and its influences, which there are many. Certainly a decent listen for fans and even those who recognize the talents that Anderson does have as a filmmaker.
Access: Three Musketeers: Similar to the Warner Bros. Blu-rays, this feature essentially pauses the film, as you watch it to take you behind the scenes during various points in the film. It also provides plenty of picture-in-picture moments that provide moments of trivia and screen comparisons, among other details, making this a solid feature to have, if one wants to further learn about the making of the film.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s Musketeers: A brief featurette with some interviews about this updated version of the story.
Orlando Bloom Takes on the Duke: A brief look at Orlando’s Bloom’s process in creating his character.
17th Century Air Travel: Another brief look at the use of those crazy air ships.
Uncovering France in Germany: A look at the use of location of filming.
Deleted & Extended Scenes: If you wanted to see more of this film, it’s here.
So will unfairly write this off, but The Three Musketeers is very descent entertainment that is not meant to be taken very seriously. I didn’t love the film, but it has a certain charm that is commendable. It certainly helps that this Blu-ray disc is pretty fantastic in regards to its Audio and Video presentation. The special features also do a good job of covering the production of the film. If one gets past their issues with initial thoughts on the film, I can see some people taking away a lot of fun from it.