Critical spots for Paul W.S. Anderson don’t get much softer than naming one of the oft-derided B-movie director’s films to a best-of-the-decade list (even if he didn’t direct what’s great about said film). But Anderson’s The Three Musketeers is a hard sit. It’s a fourth-tier swashbuckling spin on Pirates of the Caribbean and a sub-Sherlock Holmes slice of rock-’em-sock-’em literary revisionism. (One character even utters, “The game is afoot.”)
Every decade, Hollywood spit-shines Alexandre Dumas’ adventure — emphasis on the spit. In the 1990s, a Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting power ballad passed for Disney’s flourish. 2001’s woeful The Musketeer tried martial arts to no avail. This has dueling da Vinci airships, Matrix kicking and 3D.
Otherwise, this story is otherwise presented with relative faithfulness, as treacherous toads try to force an English-French war in the 1600s. There’s Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), a cocksure British royal with a thing for France’s queen; the duplicitous Milady (Milla Jovovich), a burglar eager to play both sides against the middle; and Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), a French warhawk with his foppish king’s ear and his own private army, commanded by Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), ready to take over.
All that stands in their way is the titular trio of swordsmen — the stealthy Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), the brawling Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and the brooding Aramis (Luke Evans). (How stealthy is Athos? He’s introduced emerging from a Venetian canal to pop someone like a SEAL.) Fallen from grace but still dedicated to king and country, the trio gains an ally in D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) — an impetuous young swordsman with musketeer blood in his veins.
Asking Lerman and Jovovich to carry the film is its main offense. Lerman is a walking eyeliner brush who looks like Michael Cera in a crappy wig. And while Jovovich (Anderson’s wife) makes for leggy eye candy, she lacks the necessary chill for Milady.
Save the short-haired Stevenson, everyone else’s performance is eclipsed by a brigade of bad wigs. Waltz’s pageboy is distractingly similar to Christopher Guest’s in The Princess Bride. Bloom’s ’do makes him look like a dog in Westminster’s toy group. Macfadyen looks like he’s warding off fumes from the toxic spray needed to keep his fake locks in place.
Plus, the more interesting story here is the one we never see — that of 17th-century airship repair as an apparent growth industry. Aircraft that appear to be permanently disabled are somehow flying just a few scenes later, usually with someone villainously shouting, “You see, I can blast you out of the sky with total impunity!” or heroically bellowing, “You should’ve apologized to my horse!” on their decks.
Always beautiful to look at, but always an empty shell, The Three Musketeers is a busy, noisy gobbledygook of random casting, disjointed storytelling, goofy action and dopey dialogue.
If for nothing else, The Three Musketeers at least earns high marks for a flawless Blu-ray presentation. (This review covers the 2D release.)
From the moss in the cobblestones to the brocade in the costuming, every period-piece detail is magnificently immaculate. Bright, primary colors also pop impressively in 1080p, even if some of the costumes make the cast look like Fruit of the Loom spokesmen in training.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is an immersive foundation-shaker to boot. A mere headbutt from Athos triggers a resonant low-end response, so Buckingham dropping his airship’s anchor is a sonic act of war. Discrete effects of clanging swords, soaring cannonballs and exploding wood splinters offer some whiz-bang. And Paul Haslinger’s score is as crisply mixed as it is shamelessly lifted — instrumentation, structure, motifs and all — from Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes compositions.
Extras are plentiful. Anderson delivers a full-length commentary track along with producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer. There are four “making-of” featurettes, which discuss Anderson’s take on the material, Bloom’s casting, the sets and visual effects and the filming locations. A dozen deleted / extended scenes add little (save a slightly longer version of D’Artagnan and Rochefort’s climactic scrap).
The highlight of the Blu-ray features is the “Access” mode, which runs parallel to the film with scene-specific supplements like featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, trivia and a scorecard for each of the musketeers’ swordfights.