The Musketeers deserve better ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Musketeers deserve better

The Three Musketeers (2011)
My rating:

Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers is not only a classic of Western literature, it is also one of film history's most frequently adapted novels; Wikipedia lists numerous films dating back to (fwoar!) 1903. The ones I remember are the 1973-74 ones directed by Richard Lester (actually two films, which split the novel's storyline between them) which I regard as the definitive screen adaptation; a 1993 Disney version that I happen to think quite fondly of; and a 2001 Peter Hyams-directed one called The Musketeer that was really really bad (although to be fair, I watched it on TV and wasn't paying much attention to it at the time). Now, it could be strongly argued that the Musketeers is one of those classic source materials that have exhausted their potential - or have already been definitively adapted - and filmmakers should just forget about making movies based on it for a good long while. On the other hand, given that there've been Musketeer movies for almost as long as the medium has existed, one could also accept that the novel will always inspire filmmakers, and just hope that every new movie version turns out good.

Unfortunately, in Hollywood's current era of creative bankruptcy, that ain't happening with this one.

The Three Musketeers are Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans), faithful agents of King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) of France, who were betrayed to France's enemy the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) by the treacherous double agent - and Athos' lover - Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich). A year later, the young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) arrives in Paris wishing to join the Musketeers like his father before him, and quickly runs afoul of the ruthless Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), captain of the personal guard to Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz); fortunately for him, he also befriends Athos, Porthos, Aramis and their manservant Planchet (James Corden), and falls in love with Constance (Gabriella Wilde), a handmaiden to Queen Anne (Juno Temple). Meanwhile, Richelieu is plotting to usurp Louis and has engaged Milady in a plot to scandalize the Queen and start a war between France and England - a plot that D'Artagnan and the Musketeers must foil.

Paul W.S. Anderson - not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood - is a geek's director. He made arguably one of the first successful videogame adaptations in 1995's Mortal Kombat, and went on to repeat that success by spearheading the Resident Evil series; in between, he's made a few other sci-fi films including a foray into both the Alien and Predator franchises. The sad thing is that none of his movies have been very good - some, in fact, being downright bad. His new version of The Three Musketeers is one of the downright bad ones. It's cheesy and kiddified and just plain lame. Which is as much as can be expected of a Three Musketeers movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, but the trailer fooled me into thinking there might be a fresh touch to Dumas' classic tale here for once - namely, steampunk.

Less a story genre than an aesthetic philosophy, steampunk takes the notion that the technology of the 17th-18th century was a lot more advanced than we thought. Hence, high-tech weapons and war machines, but all with a retro clockwork and steam-powered (hence the name) look. It's pretty super cool, but steampunk fans looking to get their fix here are going to be disappointed; yes, there are dirigible warships, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it gadget or two, but that's about it. Still, its failure to commit to the steampunk aesthetic is the least of its problems, and more a symptom of its slapdash approach to adapting the novel. Milady de Winter becomes a ninja-tastic action chick for no apparent reason other than to give the director's wife Milla Jovovich more screentime, and her action scenes are more stupidly anachronistic than awesome. And the screenplay, credited to Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak, is chock-full of dialogue that's nowhere near as classically witty as it thinks it is.

Or maybe it's the acting. The acting is pretty bad, you guys, and puts this on a par with Hyams' unloved 2001 version, below even the 1993 Disney one - which at least had Kiefer Sutherland as a terrific Athos, Rebecca DeMornay as a nicely sultry Milady, and Tim Curry at his villainous best as Richelieu. A good Three Musketeers movie knows that although D'Artagnan is the nominal protagonist, it's the titular three that should be the most charismatic and larger-than-life personalities. Here, these classic characters are dishwater-dull, especially Matthew Macfadyen whose expression barely changes throughout 110 minutes. Logan Lerman isn't as smirky as in his last movie, but is no more interesting to watch. Gabriella Wilde's prettiness is in direct inverse proportion to her acting ability (and she is very pretty). This marks the third time Christoph Waltz is wasted in a generic villain role. And Orlando Bloom attempts to broaden his range by playing the supremely douchebaggy Duke of Buckingham, but only proves that scenery-chewing villain is beyond his talents.

The closest thing to a saving grace is the old-fashioned swashbuckling action. But seeing as this is an old-fashioned swashbuckler film, I can't give it a pass for that, since the action is at best merely decent. There are few things I like better than a lively cinematic swordfight, but Anderson is another in a long line of filmmakers who don't know how to shoot a fight scene in a way that respects the choreographer's and stunt coordinator's work. Especially galling is the lamest conclusion to a climactic swordfight since Darth Maul got suckered by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And then there are the just plain inexplicable things - like the slightly dodgy ADR (automated dialogue recording) that sounds noticeably dubbed in places, and the soundtrack that steals liberally - and shamelessly - from the Pirates of the Caribbean score. I expect this kind of incompetent filmmaking from Metrowealth and Skop Productions, not Hollywood.

Okay, I suppose there's one more saving grace: its best performers are Freddie Fox and Juno Temple, whose King Louis' and Queen Anne's romance is rather sweet in a gawky-teenager sort of way. And I gotta say, just because I like old-fashioned swashbucklers, I considered giving it an extra half-star; I expect quite a few Malaysians might enjoy this if it happens to be one of the first Romantic period action-adventure movies they've ever seen. But then I figured no; the Richard Lester version of The Three Musketeers still exists. And there's Martin Campbell's The Mask of Zorro (forget about the sequel), or even the Pirates of the Caribbean films. When one can pick up the DVD of any of those at any time, there's simply no reason to watch this one - a film that makes the 1993 Disney version - with Chris O'Frigging Donnell - look good.

Expectations: don't hardly know anything about it