There are several stories that need to be told once a generation, if only to see how that generation’s story-tellers can spin the same yarn and keep it entertaining. Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers” has been adapted so many times it seems futile to list them all; once a generation, or sometimes several times, his famous novel has been adapted a remarkable number of times in nearly every format of the day. It’s such a universal, rich story that envisioning it as a massive action film seems only natural. And leave it Paul W.S Anderson and a fairly solid cast to take the story into the third dimension with The Three Musketeers.
Following the tale of d’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) and three fallen musketeers in Athos (Matthew MacFadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) as they prevent a catastrophe from destroying the French crown perpetrated by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) and his henchwoman Milady (Milla Jovovich) who shares a romantic past with Athos, the Musketeers and their new companion race across Europe to prevent catastrophe from bringing down the French crown.
Following the events of the novel fairly loosely, it’s easy to see where Paul W.S Anderson is going with the film. This is the sort of big action film that normally you see during the summer months and Anderson has designed the film with exactly that sort of mentality in mind. This is a film that’s more style than substance; short shrift is paid to any real sort of character development because this if a film that isn’t worried about that. This is about strong actors in one note characters who deliver mainly because this is a film that works more effectively because of its chemistry and not by anything done behind the camera.
That’s the thing that stands out the most; MacFadyen, Lerman, Stevenson and Evans work wonderfully together and we can tell the camaraderie immediately. This isn’t an origin story and we’re dropped right into the three at a low point in their lives. D’Artagnan is a straw that stirs their drink back into action and as such there isn’t enough time to develop the three beyond anything approaching a surface level. As such chemistry has to be there, and has to be strong, and Anderson is lucky that he has it because without it the film would descend into the sort of schlocky work he’s pumped out over the years. Outside of Lerman, the other three principles are regularly character actors and as such there’s no jostling to be the film’s lead. This is much more of a collaborative effort, more in line with a film like last year’s The A-Team in that regard.
The film is remarkably stylized and Anderson takes a relatively straight-forward approach to it all. There isn’t any fancy camera work, nor does he bring out any hand-held cameras, as he opts to use Zack Snyder style slow-motion as his signature method of breaking up action sequences. Anderson knows that this isn’t a film strong on story and as such opts to use some remarkable cinematography and action sequences to spice it up. This is a film that looks much more expensive than the rumored $50 million budget; it looks significantly better than many films this summer that cost 2-4 times that amount.
The Three Musketeers weak link, oddly enough, is Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. Posited as the film’s main villain, he gives the same sort of generic evil-doer performance he did in The Green Hornet when a frothing at the mouth, scenery devouring performance would send this film over the edge. He’s taking a much more cerebral approach to the character, as more of a chess player than a comic book super-villain, but the film needs the latter because it’s not skilled enough to warrant the former.
Anderson’s film remains, then, a strong stylistic take on a classic tale that doesn’t aim very high but somehow manages to succeed because it has mostly the right cast to make it work.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Notable Cast: Orlando Bloom, Matthew Macfayden, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman, James Corden, Mads Mikkelsen, Ray Stevenson, Juno Temple, Christoph Waltz, Luke Evans Writer(s): Andrew Davies and Alex Litvalk based off the novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas