When writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has a hand in a film, you can usually hear the moans and groans from the masses coming from miles away. He doesn’t exactly have a great track record what with being involved in such awful films as Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Extinction, and Afterlife, as well as Alien vs. Predator and Pandorum. However, he’s also seen better days near the start of his career with such silly, but fun films as Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, and the first Resident Evil. For his latest, a bizarre update of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, he returns to his sillier roots, but with a little less success.
Set against the backdrop of 17th century Europe, three of the king’s musketeers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), have been sent to Venice to steal plans for an airship from the vault of Leonardo de Vinci. However, when they think they’ve completed their mission, they are betrayed by their companion, Milady (Milla Jovovich), who is in league with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). As we discover, she is also in league with Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), the man who apparently controls France behind King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox).
Meanwhile, a young man by the name of D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) comes to Paris in hopes of becoming a musketeer like his father. He falls in league with Athos, Aramis, and Porthos after joining them in a fight against the Cardinal’s personal guard. Not long after, the Cardinal hatches a plan in which he’ll make it seem as though the Duke of Buckingham and the Queen of France are having an affair by getting Milady to place incriminating letters in the Queen’s bedchamber and delivering the Queen’s diamond necklace to Buckingham. In this way, he hopes to spark a war between France and England that will result in his coming to absolute power. Once one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting, Constance (Gabriella Wilde), warns D’Artagnan of the suspected plot, it’s up to the musketeers to prevent it from happening.
First off, those expecting a faithful adaptation of Dumas’s novel should dismiss those expectations right away. The trailers and ads should have dispersed any notions of that in the first place. This adaptation, from writers Alex Litvak (Predators) and Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’s Diary), is rather loose from the original text, making several changes including the addition of airships to the main plot.
The film does have a fair amount of entertainment value, turning several scenes into sheer spectacle. Throughout the adventure, we get to witness multiple swordfights, an airship chase, and even a pair of heists. The element that is not played up very much is the political intrigue. There is a scene every now and again of Richelieu telling us his plans, but this is practically it. The spectacle ends up outweighing the substance, giving you the feeling of having watched a somewhat entertaining show, but nothing you’ll be thinking about the next day.
The performances left much to be desired. Milla Jovovich proves once again that she can’t act by giving what is probably the blandest performance in the film, and also proving that being married to the director has its advantages. Her scenes are the silliest the film has to offer as she flips around in slow motion during fights and heists. Orlando Bloom looks like he’s having fun as he hams up every scene he’s in with a certain amount of overacting. Waltz isn’t given much to do here as the Cardinal, especially with the downplayed political intrigue, nor does he do very much with the scenes he’s given. Logan shows that he’s not much of a leading man, which he also did in the forgettable Percy Jackson film from last year.
Strangely enough, the two best performances come from smaller characters. Ray Stevenson (Rome) plays Porthos, the musketeer who seems to have the most personality among our heroes while Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) plays Captain Rochefort, the Cardinal’s right-hand man. Unfortunately, they, like all of the other characters, are left undeveloped throughout the film.
All of the silliness and bad performances catch up with it in the end. While you’re busy looking at the special effects, you’ll begin to notice that there’s not really anything in the way of substance like a well-thought-out plot and characters that you care about. With the quality that Anderson tends to deliver, perhaps we should be thankful that it wasn’t much worse than it turned out. At the very least, he delivered a semi-entertaining film that delivered on the action it promised in the trailer, just not so much on the important parts that the title would lead you to believe. 2.5/4 stars.
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