You can usually tell when you’re watching a Paul WS Anderson film. For one, you can often hear him salivating at the presence of his wife Milla Jovovich, an untalented waif of a woman who Anderson persists in turning in to an action star, placing her on the highest of pedestals. And secondly, most of the best fight scenes are filtered through some of the most painful slow motion imaginable. I’m still not sure what Anderson fetishizes more at the end of the day, Milla or slow motion, but surely enough he revisits both corners with his re-working of “The Three Musketeers.” Anyone expecting a sophisticated, adult, and masterful adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel will have to wait a lot longer as Anderson is mostly content with subjecting audiences to a brutally infantile and wholly bland version of one of the greatest stories of all time.
Cribbing from Disney’s adaptation, while riffing on “Indiana Jones” and steam punk, “The Three Musketeers” is far and away the least likely adaptation adult audiences would want. Trying to pick up where “Pirates of the Caribbean” left off as a proposed franchise, Anderson touts his film to the young audiences this time around, introducing us to a mostly English speaking series of French characters in the middle of Europe. This time we meet the heroic three musketeers as they’re forced to play second fiddle to the likes of supporting character Milady (not coincidentally played by Milla Jovovich) who helps seize secret plans for a war weapon that could spell doom for the country. But when she turns coat, they’re forced to retaliate years later with young D’Artagnan, a dashing young warrior who hopes to join the musketeers.
The plot line is pretty much the same as the other iterations from the past. Most exclusively the 1993 Disney adaptation which saw much of the same situations occur both of the humorous and dramatic sort. There is even a comical misunderstanding between D’Artagnan and the musketeers in a courtyard that we essentially saw in the predecessor when he schedules three duels for the same day with the trio of swordsmen. Given that, Anderson does take advantage of the stellar cast and spends most of his time on Christoph Waltz relying on him to pull off the role of Cardinal Richelieu, the devious holy man hoping to conquer the land with the help of Milady.
Of course Waltz can play this role in his sleep, and most times he looks darn right lethargic. When Anderson has the ability to tell a sophisticated retooling of the Dumas tale, he opts instead for juvenile steam punk dribble where most anachronistic gadgets are introduced, all the while the characters stumble around throughout the course of the picture bandying tired one-liners and failing to show any sort of wit or enthusiasm for the material. The worst aspect of the film is that though the cast is respectable, they simply have no chemistry. The boyish zeal from D’Artagnan is lost on Logan Lerman, while folks like Orlando Bloom and Ray Stevenson are mostly wasted in their roles. The three musketeers barely have friction as a unit; most times they barely seem to like one another, thus most of the action and unifying themes are lost on this installment.
I could also never be sure about what Anderson was driving at with his premise about the apocalypse and the Cardinal’s master plan as it’s lost in a sea of exhausting monologues that fail to inspire any tension or suspense, all the while the fight scenes are mainly nonsensical time fillers meant to distract from the convoluted narrative. Anyone hoping to figure out the grand master plan by the end of the film will be sorely disappointed as Anderson greets us with an open ended climax that Anderson seems to be certain will be met with a sequel. At the end of the day, this “epic” is merely a drab affair, and it’s obviously trying to steal the spotlight from the superior Disney pirates franchise. As an Anderson movie it’s on par with most of his material, and that doesn’t bode well for poor Alexandre Dumas who continues rolling in his grave.