The Three Musketeers, or, Fun is Underrated

I know what you’re going to say. “Miranda liked a bad movie! We couldn’t be more shocked if you gave us forks and electrical sockets and told us to go wild!”

But, the fact remains, I saw the new Three Musketeers movie, and it was a blast. Sometimes literally. If there is an award for Best Use of Airships in a Motion Picture, this movie takes it away from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow like candy from a baby.

I am by no means blind to the film’s many issues. After all, there are airships in The Three Musketeers. Now, I have not read my Dumas in a long time, but I recall nothing in my reading about a huge, hot air balloon galleon. (What is it with modern filmmakers and putting hot air into Dumas adaptations? Does anyone else remember that huge balloon Jim Caviezel arrives to his party in, in The Count of Monte Cristo? Does anyone other than me love that movie?)

The film bears only passing resemblance to its source material. Some of the changes make for some rip-roaring good fun. (See airships, Milla Jovovich doing a Fifth Element swan-dive off the roof of Versailles in her eighteenth century underwear, Milla Jovovich running through a hallway filled with fine wires that will cut her to pieces, a la Resident Evil. In fact, most of what Milla Jovovich does is cribbed from something she did in another movie. Which, as this movie is set in the early 18th century, and the rest of the movies she’s known for are very much not, may be part of the problem.)

The cast suffers from a dichotomy of mindset. Half of them think they’re in a serious adaptation of an important literary work, and half of them read the entire  script, rather than just their own lines. Matthew Macfadyen, as Athos, is very much unaware that he’s starring in a romp. He gives his lines with all the gravitas and biting inner conflict that he can muster, as a man who wishes he could go back and sacrifice all his principles for the woman he loves. (He doesn’t realize that the woman he loves is an alien zombie clone, but this just endears him to me further.) He also thinks he’s a young Alan Rickman, but I can’t help but be charmed by the effort he puts in.

All the musketeers seem like they would be perfectly at home in a movie that was way more concerned with being good. Christopher Guest is understated and just a little bit flat as the Cardinal, but I can’t help imagining that he plays Richelieu much more as the man himself probably was; smooth, quiet, and deadly when crossed. We don’t see much of the “deadly.” The Cardinal’s power is mostly poked fun at for comic relief. The actors playing the teenage king and queen are sweet, especially the king, as he bumbles and struts his way towards manhood. They, too, seem to think this is supposed to be a Good Movie.

And then we have the rest of the cast. D’Artagnan was utterly forgettable. The writers changed a few key moments that muddy his personality considerably. In the perfect world in which I am in charge of characterizations, D’Artagnan is a swaggering country boy who can back it up with his swordsmanship, and is an incurable romantic at heart. He truly believes in the musketeers he wishes so badly to be a part of, true love, his king, and his country. (In that order.) This actor played him as all swagger and no heart. Rochefort, played by Mads Mikkelsen, phones it in so thoroughly I had to wonder if he was awake. The two of them had a sword fight that was clearly supposed to be epic, on the roof of Notre Dame, but I could barely keep my eyes open for it. It did happen right after an airship battle, so it was a little anticlimactic. But still.

Milla Jovovich wasn’t a very good Milady, I’m sad to say. There was no mystery to her, in part because of a bizarre scene the writers shoehorned in at the beginning to explain how freaking airships (did I mention the airships?) have any place in this tale. She didn’t seem threatening, or sinister, or even particularly sexy. It was an…interesting choice, to play Milady DeWinter as “cute.” There isn’t a single scene in which she acts like she believes anything she’s saying. Her death scene, which has moved me to tears in other versions, was perfunctory. I called the ending when I saw her fall backwards off the airship, because it was so clearly telegraphed.

Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham swaggers around in ridiculous outfits, a truly disturbing haircut/beard combination, and a dangly pearl earring he might have found attached to Jack Sparrow’s (Captain Jack Sparrow’s) dreads. He is so thoroughly unbelievable as the slimy, power-obsessed bad guy, it hurts to watch him try. In another kind of adaptation, (the sort actually based on the book) he would have been excellent as the man having an affair with the Queen of France, endangering the fragile balance of power in Europe in order to steal a few moments with the woman he loves, but can never truly be with. But here it’s all empty swashbuckling, the geopolitics of which are never fully explained. He looks like he’s having a pretty good time, all things considered. (“I get to be the bad guy? Really? Not even conflicted? Just bad? YAY!”) He’s just not that good at it.

But even with all these problems, the movie is fun. Pure, unadulterated, unapologetic fun. Watching the airship battle? Fantastic. The musketeers? Hot, good at sword fights. The teenage contingent? A little smarmy, but all in all, fun to watch. Because this movie had airships. The dialogue was witty enough, the action was exciting without being gory, some of the actors did a great job. Everyone looked pretty in rich costumes heavy on the brocade, lace, and jewels. The swash got its brains buckled out.

It was FUN. Would it have been more fun if it had been a better adaptation, one that took advantage of the rich story of the original, without just adapting a bunch of adaptations? Oh, yes. But this was a great way to spend a couple of hours, and I was delighted when my suspicions that they were setting up for a sequel were confirmed. (And that they were confirmed almost exactly how I predicted they would be.)

 

One thought on “The Three Musketeers, or, Fun is Underrated

  1. I wanted big and ludicrous and silly, with swords and airships. That’s pretty much what I got. Still, I’m not surprised one bit that just about everybody hates this film. Good review. Check out mine when you get a chance.

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