Forced jolliness (think “office picnic” or “family reunion camping trip”) is the rule of the day in The Three Musketeers, a joy-free slog that flings needless 3-D at your face and then strikes horror into your soul with its sequel-demanding ending.
You know when you fold all the laundry and put it all away and triumphantly relax on the couch only to see a giant basket full of socks, washcloths and sheets that still needs to be folded? That sense of to-the-core demoralization is how I felt after fighting my way, inch by inch, through this movie, weighed down by the dreadful banter and lashed about the face and shoulders by the stupid 3-D effects only to find an ending which all but promised a second helping of this awfulness. (When it comes to the 3-D, I don’t know what to blame on the movie and what to blame on the theater, where a slice of the left-most side of the action was happening over the curtains off to the side of the screen. But the result was 3-D that was headache-inducing, a bit blurry at times and completely distracting.) Maybe this film’s $8.8 million opening weekend take will keep this from becoming a reality.
Perhaps if we all hope together.
The Musketeers that make up the three are Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson —Titus Pullo deserves better than this). We meet them just as they and Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich, who might be wearing a corset but is still basically in Resident Evil mode) pull off the purloining of plans for a war machine. Well, almost pull it off — Milady betrays them and these Musketeers of France are left incapacitated by a poison as the English Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) walks off with the plans. Skip forward a bit and the Musketeers are now down on their luck and spending most of their time drunkenly hanging out at their Paris home. Which is where the musketeer who really gets most of the movie’s attention finds them. D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) is just a country boy with big dreams. He’s skilled with the sword — his father is a former musketeer — and has an overdeveloped sense of honor (his first “I challenge you to a duel” comes after a man insults his horse), and he plans to join the musketeers.
Charmed by his spunkiness, the three let this fourth hang out with them and he even gains the trust of the king (Freddie Fox), who is just a young goofus like D’Artagnan and wants some advice for winning the love of the queen (Juno Temple). Because of this and because D’Artagnan is also trying to win over Constance (Gabriella Wilde), one of the queen’s ladies, he scores the musketeers their next mission. The cardinal (Christoph Waltz), with the help of Milady, is trying to set up the queen and provoke a war with England. But England, with the help of Buckingham, now has the war machine of the opening action sequence: basically, a flying ship with cannons and other bad-ass stuff.
The way I’m describing the plot here does not thoroughly convey how charmless and devoid of life this movie is. The movie I’ve just described, one with Waltz as a villain, Jovovich as a double-agent type and all sorts of sword-fighting and flying boats, is a movie that could conceivably be enjoyable. I like sword-fighting, I like an evil Waltz. How this movie screws up so many potentially fun elements isn’t exactly clear — though being forced to watch it in 3-D definitely helped make it an unfun experience. Perhaps it’s also because the movie feels so manufactured — you will laugh here, you will thrill to this fight, you will care about this budding romance (I don’t, though, I don’t care about any of the three romances the movie sets up). This movie is crammed with stuff — older actors, younger actors, action, humor, big gaudy sets. There’s no room for the boisterous, slightly campy sense of fun that this movie should have. It’s too crowded out by, I don’t know, marketing.
On the current seasons of Top Chef: Just Desserts and Project Runway, “less” has been a theme. The contestants who succeed seem to do so by doing big impressive things, doing them very well, but then stopping before their project crosses the line from “big” to “too much.” “Editing” is how they describe this on Project Runway — using good materials and smart construction but then stopping yourself from adding all sorts of bedazzly elements. The Three Musketeers needs just such an eye — someone to take things away (hint: start with the 3-D) and then smooth out some of the flaws. Or, and this works for me too, it can just pack its knives and go. D+
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action adventure violence. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson with a screenplay by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies (from the novel by Alexandre Dumas), The Three Musketeers is an hour and 50 minutes long and is released by Summit Entertainment.