When I heard Paul W. S. Anderson was making a Three Musketeers movie, I felt a mixture of intrigue and trepidation. The Three Musketeers, who originated in the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas, have a storied history on screen, whether it’s the myriad Disney versions (particularly one starring Chris O’Donnell and Mr. “Adonis DNA” himself, Charlie Sheen) or the Richard Lester-directed trilogy produced by none other than Alexander and Illya Salkind (who would reuse the idea of shooting two movies together from the start when they went on to produce the original Superman film series, having split their first Three Musketeers movie in two). I knew Anderson’s reputation of directing fun cheese – obviously right my alley – but I couldn’t help but feel this was a big opportunity to introduce these literary icons to a new generation in a bold way.
When most people thought of The Three Musketeers, they would most likely think of the Salkinds/Michael York (d’Artagnan in the trilogy, and the beloved Basil Exposition in Austin Powers) version of the story. Just as Guy Ritchie did with Sherlock Holmes, Anderson had the opportunity to do his own spin on this classic. Cast as the leads were the likes of Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone), Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element), and a personal favorite of mine, Logan Lerman, who I have been following since the underrated WB show Jack and Bobby. Frequently up for big roles, most notably Spider-Man: Homecoming, Lerman had yet to have a hit franchise, with his only film series, Percy Jackson, barely getting to a second movie and sputtering thereafter. The Three Musketeers was his chance to reach a whole new audience and a whole new level in his career. Add to that Oscar-winner Christophe Waltz (Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds), and you had all the makings of a franchise starter, something that Summit had been looking for with the lucrative Twilight saga soon to be ending.
When the 75-million-dollar film opened (a number that, if the real one, makes the scope of the film impressive), I was disappointed with a lot of what I saw. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed The Three Musketeers. But it just felt like a missed opportunity for an exciting new action franchise, albeit with a historical bend. The latter part is important, considering this was a film with hopes of bringing in a new generation, a generation that might become interested in this particular era of history. Yes, there’s a fantastical angle to this, particularly because of the use of airships, but there’s so much to learn as well. One of the most notable missteps is the conflict between d’Artagnan and the captain over his horse. This is cheesy and doesn’t come across well on screen. I even groaned inwardly when I first saw it. But what works in a book does not always translate to film, as is the case here. I understand Anderson’s intent to build some personal animosity between the two that would climax in the final fight, but it was the wrong thing to emphasize. Anderson is so busy trying to make The Three Musketeers a light romp by throwing jokes left and right (particularly from James Corden as the manservant) that it almost becomes difficult to take a lot of the film seriously.
This is a big reason why I love it.
You can tell Orlando Bloom’s having the time of his life as the Duke of Buckingham. (I even admit the scenes with his and the king’s mismatched outfits gave me a chuckle.) Logan Lerman, once again, gives a great performance, though I do feel the part may have been a little under-cooked. Ray Stevenson also looks like he’s having a good time; I would even argue his portrayal of Porthos is probably the best the character has gotten since the 1973 version.
For all the cheese, the place where Anderson excels is, if not building a fully fleshed-out world for his story, then at least using the pillars of great world-building, which is what makes his movies all the more intriguing. Whether it’s Mortal Kombat, Death Race, or even the Resident Evil franchise, there’s always something about Anderson’s films that make you want to look deeper into their world. So too does this apply to The Three Musketeers. I want to see more of this universe, perhaps more of the genealogy of the Musketeers. We get a glimpse of this with d’Artagnan’s father, who himself was a Musketeer. Getting into what makes a Musketeer and what happened to the others is something that deserves more exploration. I also wish Anderson’s The Three Musketeers explored Richelieu more. When you have the great Christoph Waltz in your movie, you shouldn’t waste him. I hope he gets another shot in the role one day because we’ve all seen what he can do with a meaty part. (Look no further than his performances in the aforementioned Quentin Tarantino films.)
Seeing all this talent on the screen would’ve been something to behold if it weren’t for weak story beats and anvils such as, “She died as she lived; on her own terms.” Yes, this is an actual line in the movie, and I don’t understand how Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) pulled it off. The fact that it’s only a set up for a cop-out fifteen minutes later makes it so the audience can’t help but sit back and laugh at the utter absurdity. Despite all of this, I’d deal with more cornball dialogue and under-developed roles if it meant we got to go back to this world again.
The Three Musketeers is a film couched in opportunity. Anderson is known for being a B-movie director, and on that level, it succeeds. All the actors look like they are having a blast, but ultimately, the story can’t support the ambitious scope. Anderson, of course, hasn’t let the demise of his aspiring franchise get him down, as he has already started on his next: an adaptation of the video game series Monster Hunter. Hopefully this’ll be another fun romp like The Three Musketeers, because really, who doesn’t love a ridiculous movie once in a while?