And All for This?
Three Musketeers buckles under a swash of dreck
by Molly Templeton
THE THREE MUSKETEERS: Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Written by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies, based (loosely) on the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Cinematography, Glen MacPherson. Editor, Alexander Berner. Music, Paul Haslinger. Costumes, Pierre-Yves Gayraud. Starring Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich, Luke Evans, Logan Lerman, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz and Juno Temple. Summit Entertainment, 2011. PG-13. 110 minutes. One star.
What is it about Mads Mikkelsen that makes people cast him as a nasty piece of work with eye issues? You likely know him as Le Chiffre, the blood-weeping villain in Casino Royale; if your tastes run to the independent and violent, you might recognize One Eye from Nicolas Winding Refn’s underseen and argument-starting Valhalla Rising. You might also wonder what he’s doing in The Three Musketeers, an opportunistic mess of a film.
It’s not just Mikkelsen slumming. Christoph Waltz waters down and rehashes the cold fury that made him such a knockout as Col. Landa in Inglorious Basterds; Milla Jovovich, once again working with Resident Evil: Endless Series director Paul W.S. Anderson, giggles, flounces and pouts as a traitorous and multitalented lady. From the pert Juno Temple (Atonement) as the French queen to hangdog Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice) as sensitive dude Athos to Ray Stevenson (the heavy in everything) as Porthos, The Three Musketeers abounds with actors of relative repute — actors whose presence leaves you wondering when someone is going to wink. Surely they realize this doesn’t even reach the level of camp. Surely someone is going to crack.
No one does. Not quite, though a moustache-twirling Orlando Bloom appears to be trying to channel Jack Sparrow. Anderson’s cast plays it mostly straight, even when “straight” means “making vague visual jokes about the questionable manliness of men who care about clothing.” (Never mind that one of the film’s few charms is the unexpected and unaddressed sexual tension between D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) and basically every other man on screen.)
Ostensibly, The Three Musketeers is based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel. More directly, these Musketeers are descendents of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. When the plot leaves you bored, you can look right through it and see the machinations behind the film: Public domain characters plus lavish period setting might possibly equal an effective way to part the moviegoing audience from its hard-earned (or ill-gained) cash.
Four things save Anderson’s film from being the last straw that makes me swear off all films that come from the Big Event Movie Machine:
1. Christoph Waltz is never not worth watching.
2. Some of the swordfighting is a) interesting and b) filmed and edited so that we can actually see what’s happening.
3. Milla Jovovich has ample opportunity to display her special talent for being unrealistically badass while clothed in something absurd.
4. Pierre-Yves Gayraud’s costumes are exquisite.
A lot of skill and craftsmanship went into The Three Musketeers. The sets sparkle; even the straight-from-Stardust airships are moderately nifty. Visually, the film is quite effective when it comes to the need to distract us from Lerman’s Hey-I’m-a-cocky-American-who-sounds-like-Keanu-Reeves take on D’Artagnan, or the script’s tendency to lean on clichéd dialogue that mistakes its anachronistic content for cleverness.
But the costumes — whether period accurate or not — are the thing on which my eye fixed when my brain had nothing to chew on: capes, oversized hoods and bonnets, heavy skirts, corset-enhanced cleavage, floppy hats, piratical boots, yards and yards of fabric in bright colors dotted with shining thread. The Three Musketeers is an inane piece of dreck, but if Gayraud wins an Oscar for it, I will stand up and applaud in my living room.