I doubt that when Alexandre Dumas wrote “The Three Musketeers” in the 19th Century he was thinking “Dude, this would be awesome in 3-D, with a bunch of flamethrowers, CGI explosions and a scene where an airship crashes into the Notre Dame Cathedral, too!”
Then again, you never know. Somebody thought it was a good idea. The “somebody,” in this case, being director Paul W.S. Anderson of “Resident Evil” and “Death Race” fame.
In Anderson’s vision of “The Three Musketeers,” we meet D’Artagnan, a brash kid with dreams of emulating the valor of his heroes, the titular Musketeers: suave leader Athos, jaunty juggernaut Porthos and somber enigma Aramis.
Unfortunately, when D’Artagnan finally meets his heroes, he finds them embittered shells of their former selves. Conveniently, an insidious plot by royal adviser Cardinal Richelieu to usurp the crown of France for himself is just the spark needed to reignite the passion of the Musketeers, launching them into a desperate struggle to keep the world from collapsing into cataclysmic war.
Despite somehow swinging an ensemble cast which boasts the talents of Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger and Juno Temple, Anderson chooses to shine the limelight predominantly on hacks like blander-than-bland Logan “Percy Jackson” Lerman, or the ever-grating Orlando Bloom, whose hammy performance here borrows so much from the arsenal of former “Pirates of the Caribbean” co-star Johnny Depp that it borders on plagiarism.
Of those actors given substantial screen time, only Milla Jovovitch’s winky, sexy turn as the archetypal femme fatale, Milady de Winter, achieves that much-desired balance between genuine acting skill and upbeat fun.
Although the characters’ names will be familiar to anyone who’s read Dumas’ novel, no reasonable person should expect a faithful adaptation from Anderson. Instead, the book’s complex narrative has been reduced to a simple MacGuffin-hunt, with both heroes and villains interested solely in the mad scramble to gain possession of an all-important plot device. Naturally, there’s plenty of showy swordplay and steampunk gadgetry throughout, with the film taking on a campy “Ocean’s Eleven”-meets-“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” persona.
While Anderson does know how to craft energetic and exciting action scenes, his ability to make something memorable that doesn’t involve swashbuckling fight choreography and copious amounts of collateral damage seems nonexistent. Some audience members will find themselves counting down the seconds between action sequences. Then again, the endless exposition, tacky one-liners and ill-advised appropriation of blockbuster tropes might put them into a coma of boredom first.
The only moments of the film likely to rouse authentic interest are those which are so outlandishly over-the-top that one can’t help but raise an eyebrow in bemused befuddlement.
Watching Anderson apply his slick, flamboyant, post-“Matrix” brand of filmic fetishism to this iconic tale of political intrigue and romantic melodrama is like watching someone airbrush the Mona Lisa to look more like Snooki. Mostly, it’s horrifying, but there’s a little part of you that almost admires the insanity and audacity it takes to do such a thing.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5