Taking a break from his Resident Evil series, director Paul W S Anderson brings his restless filmmaking style to bear on Alexandre Dumas’ rollicking yarn, The Three Musketeers. The result is a CG-heavy, anachronistic re-imagining along the lines of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes – an action fantasy of heaving bosoms, fanciful machinery, and jolly swordfights, it’s a sexier Three Musketeers for the Assassin’s Creed generation.
Anderson’s assembled an impressive cast for his 17th century confection, which includes Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans as the musketeers (respectively, Athos, Porthos and Aramis), Christoph Waltz as the conniving Cardinal Richelieu, Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham, and Milla Jovovich as Milady De Winter. At the forefront stands Logan Lerman as D’Artagnan, a cocky young parvenu who’s handy with a sword.
For what it’s worth, here’s the plot: it’s the 17th century, and France teeters on the brink of war with England. King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) is little more than a puppet whose strings are pulled by the duplicitous Cardinal, who secretly plots to light the tinderbox of war against England in a bid for power.
The musketeers, a group of elite warriors who fight for the king, are disillusioned and gloomy following a botched mission in Venice. “The Cardinal rules in all but name,” opines a miserable Athos, “we may as well drink to him.” The arrival of perky young upstart D’Artagnan, however, forces the musketeers out of their glum funk. Within minutes of setting foot in Paris, D’Artagnan fought and beaten a detachment of the Cardinal’s guard in combat, and earned the attention of the queen’s lady in waiting, Constance (Gabriella Wilde).
While D’Artagnan’s prowess earns him the respect of the musketeers, there’s intrigue in the palace; the Cardinal and Milady De Winter steal the queen’s jewels and spirit them away to the Tower of London. By making it appear as though Queen Anne (Juno Temple, who talks like Officer Hooks out of Police Academy) has been having an affair with the dashing Duke of Buckingham, Richelieu and De Winter hope to goad King Louis into resuming the war with England.
Queen Anne, aware of the plotting going on around her, despatches the three musketeers, along with new recruit D’Artagnan, on a daring mission to England to retrieve her jewellery and prevent a diplomatic crisis.
In basic outline, the plot hews closely to Dumas’ novel, while introducing steampunk flying zeppelins, slow-mo wire-fu combat, and Errol Flynn heroics. It’s all unrelentingly daft, but then again, it’s also extremely good-natured. There’s a pleasant sense of camaraderie between Macfadyen, Stevenson and Evans as the three musketeers, though Macfadyen has a disquieting tendency to boom out his wisdom like a young Brian Blessed.
If the film has one glaring problem, it’s Logan Lerman’s performance as D’Artagnan. It takes a particular kind of actor to pull off the deceptively difficult archetype of the plucky young upstart, and Lerman doesn’t manage it. He’s able to wield a sword, but comes across as presumptuous and unsympathetic whenever he’s required to open his mouth. At one point, Constance describes him as a “clumsy country boy,” which I’d initially misheard as something far too offensive for a film aimed at a young audience.
On the topic of young audiences, the gaggle of school kids who crowded into the screening seemed to love much of the film, and tittered and chortled along appreciatively to the various moments of comic relief. To a jaded adult’s eyes, not all of these come off – James Cordon’s put upon manservant, Planchet, is variously defecated on by seagulls and repeatedly told to shut up by the rest of the cast – but younger audience members seemed to love it.
The real comic revelation, though, is Freddie Fox as King Louis. He’s fantastic as an effete monarch more concerned with the colour of his tights than the prospect of war, and he lights up every scene he’s in. In fact, some of these courtly scenes are so good that I almost wish that Anderson had concentrated on making a camp period comedy instead.
Instead, Anderson ploughs his usual furrow of computer-generated hi-jinx and balletic action. It’s all perfectly pleasant, in a frictionless, inconsequential sort of way, and while The Three Musketeers isn’t a particularly great film, its playful sense of fun makes it an infinitely more entertaining way of spending 110 minutes than the more serious and rather boring Resident Evil: Afterlife. Even the 3D, which was distracting and overused in Afterlife, is less intrusively employed here.
Anyone expecting a historically accurate rendering of the book (which, let’s face it, was never going to happen in any case) will probably want to remove a star from the rating below. But even to a sour-faced curmudgeon such as myself, The Three Musketeers is a harmless, wilfully daft bit of family fluff that springs to life whenever the action pauses long enough to let Christoph Waltz and Freddie Fox speak.