The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas is one of the most adapted books to film in history. When Paul W.S. Anderson decided to create a new version in 2011 it was the 21st adaptation of the famous novel. Known for his work on the Resident Evil series, Anderson was clearly looking for a new franchise to continue his trend of producing low quality, high-earning films. From a budget of $75m it ended up taking $132m globally which was disappointing figure considering the amount of advertising and potential bankability of the cast.
D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) is a young man looking to follow his father’s footsteps by joining the King’s Musketeers. Upon arriving in Paris, he discovers that the Musketeers have been disbanded under the orders of Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). He finds himself arranging fights with Athos (Matthew Mcfayden), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), the legendary Three Musketeers, but interruption from the Cardinal’s guard leads to them joining forces to stop a plot to overthrow King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) by the dastardly Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and untrustworthy Milady (Milla Jovovich).
Anderson has blended a cast of talented actors and somehow fed them dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place on a daytime soap opera. The talent of Waltz, Macfayden, Evans and Stevenson are completely wasted, which considering their previous works is a huge shame. Casting the uneven Orlando Bloom as an effete, cowardly Buckingham could have been a masterstroke, sadly even this falls flat on its face and is in the end laughable. In Mads Mikkelsen, as Rochefort, The Three Musketeers has the only person in the whole film who absolutely nails his performance. His disappearance from vast portions of the narrative is a crippling blow. In his place is the unbelievably miscast James Corden, who further drags the film into absurdity. He can be a funny and talented performer, but this was a terrible misstep.
It takes a spectacular demented director to ruin, what on paper, should be an explosively fun and entertaining story and cast. Yet somehow Anderson manages to do so. Many attempt their own take on the literature and in Anderson’s case he combined modern martial arts fighting style, with over-the-top art direction and a heavy steam-punk influence. There’s nods to cultural icons like Leonardo Da Vinci and any attempt to tie-in the characters to the place and time is forgotten quickly. There is a mixture of accents from German to New Yorker via estuary English all which heavily imply that no care was given to base The Three Musketeers in any kind of reality. What this leaves the audience with is a cartoon-influenced vision of 17th Century France that is a mess of modern colloquial language, fighting techniques and preposterous action set-pieces that are big, dumb and endlessly frustrating.
The Three Musketeers was obviously a bold attempt to create the start of a money-spinning franchise similar to Anderson’s Resident Evil series. Like those films, this is stupid, vacuous nonsense, but the bigger crime is it’s wasteful nature.
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