After the monstrous success of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood dusted off Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling heroes for another cinematic outing. What is more surprising is that it would be left to director Paul W.S. Anderson to reinvigorate France’s greatest literary action stars for the 3D age. Anderson is largely derided by movie fanboys, in part because of Alien Vs. Predator, the film that single-handedly destroyed two of science fiction’s most beloved action franchises. He seems a risky choice to launch (or reboot, depending on how you want to look at it) this particular property, but as unpopular as he is, his Resident Evil films all turned a tidy profit and so must appear a safe choice to the film’s financiers.
There have been more than 20 different cinematic adaptations of The Three Musketeers to-date, so the pressure was on for screenwriters Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak to give audiences something new. If nothing else, they can at least be credited with delivering a brave, revisionist version of the 17th Century classic. While the action remains in France during the reign of young King Louis XIII (a sympathetic Freddie Fox), The Three Musketeers displays heavy steampunk influences, including flying galleons, advanced weaponry and a proficiency in martial arts and other anachronistic combat techniques that will infuriate classicists but should appeal to young uninitiated audiences and those craving something new. While Anderson’s film may appear anything but familiar, the story remains focused on action, romance, camaraderie and political rivalries – even though it’s clearly more interested in grand scale aerial battles and roundhouse kicks than the power struggles between Church and State that haunt the corridors of Versailles.
Make no mistake, The Three Musketeers is incredibly silly, only fleetingly reminiscent of the literary classic from which it takes its name and makes no attempt to educate its audience in anything about the period. It has assembled a broad cast of notable character actors, who surround lead performers largely unfamiliar to most viewers. Logan Lerman, best remembered as the lead in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, plays D’Artagnan – the cock-sure country boy who journeys to Paris to join the King’s most-trusted guard. Matthew Macfadyen (best-known for his TV work in England), Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone) and Luke Evans (soon to be seen as Zeus in Immortals) are fine, but nothing more as the roguish heroes of the title, while Orlando Bloom is clearly having a ball as England’s dastardly Duke of Buckingham. Christoph Waltz and Mads Mikkelsen fall flat as Richelieu and Rochefort, but special mention must be given to Milla Jovovich whose kick-ass Milady is basically Alice from Resident Evil in a corset, and enjoys many of the film’s best moments. While I can appreciate Anderson & Co.’s efforts to deliver an adventurous, otherworldly and unashamedly fun period romp, it also seems intent on being lightweight, slowwitted and incredibly dumb.