“The Three Musketeers,” written by Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies and Alexandre Dumas (novel), directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, 110 minutes, rated PG-13.
With “The Three Musketeers,” director Paul W.S. Anderson had the opportunity to break away from the swill he’s made a career out of (“Resident Evil,” “Event Horizon” and “Soldier”), and show audiences that he’s more than just a second-rate popcorn sci-fi filmmaker.
This latest incarnation of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling quartet finds Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) down in the dumps after being double-crossed by the opportunistic Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich).
The faithless trio trade in defending France’s honor for petty thievery, heavy drinking and policing the city’s horses, while the corrupt Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz, wasted yet again) grows stronger, angling to become the country’s No. 1 power with the help of Milady.
With impending war between England and France, Milady also plays friendly with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), ensuring her seat at the top no matter who comes out victorious. And with the Musketeers out of commission, and Richelieu busy at work, war is all but certain.
Enter d’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), the son of a former musketeer. He’s full of piss, vinegar and, most importantly, hope. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he brashly challenges Athos, Aramis and Porthos to individual duels, one after another, letting his boldness get the better of him. Instead of fighting the three, however, he joins them in a public spectacle that brings the original Musketeers back to their heyday and ready to prevent war.
It’s a fool-proof project, really. The source material has endured for generations, the opportunity for swordplay is limitless, and the cast that Anderson somehow wrangled together is shockingly talented. But Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t your everyday fool, and he fails to put all of these pieces together.
For starters, Anderson shoves Aramis, Porthos and Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) aside so that he can once again thrust his muse, Milla Jovovich, center stage. Occupying more than her fair share of screen time, Jovovich is entirely miscast as Milady. You don’t grow a distaste for her, and you certainly don’t feel outsmarted by her. Instead, you just feel indifferent, which is arguably the worst reaction any actor could possibly generate.
Then again, there’s a lot of indifference in Anderson’s “Three Musketeers,” including the underwhelming swordplay. After the elaborate action that directors Gore Verbinski and Rob Marshall put on display with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, “The Three Musketeers” just seems simple, even boring at times.
Anderson does put together a nice production, with large, lavish sets and special effects that were worth every penny. Outside of that, Macfadyen does his best to bring some dry wit to Athos, and rising star Logan Lerman adds another feather to his cap as d’Artagnan. They’re noble efforts and minor victories in a battle that just can’t be won.
The fault here lies solely on Anderson, the film’s fearless leader. We should never expect anything more than “Resident Evil” or “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” from him. With “Three Musketeers,” a chance for the filmmaker to explore new territory, Anderson is uninterested in altering his style to fit the story, and instead tries to make the story fit his style. Not a good idea.
But that’s Paul W.S. Anderson. He lives by the sword, and he dies by the sword. Here, we get a bitter taste of the latter.