‘The Three Musketeers’ movie review: Milla Jovovich in steampunk Dumas riff

In the eyes of many, a definitive cinematic version of the Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers has yet to be made, with (perhaps) the 1949 version starring Gene Kelly & Lana Turner and the 1973 version directed by Richard Lester coming closest. More recent adaptations, including a Brat Pack 1993 version and the 2001 martial arts abomination The Musketeer, have failed to live to their predecessors or, ahem, the source material.

It’s safe to assume that a version of The Three Musketeers from Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of Death Race and Resident Evil: Afterlife, would not be that elusive definitive edition. Now, I’m not usually one to pour the hate on Anderson’s films – they are what they are, and his Mortal Kombat was probably as good as it could have been. But this is the worst thing he’s ever been involved with.

I didn’t expect much from The Three Musketeers, but I didn’t expect:

  • An opening cribbed from Assassin’s Creed, with cloaked figures in Venice overlooking the city from rooftops and stealthily dispatching city guards.

  • Not one, but two rehashes of that scene in Resident Evil where Milla Jovovich, in slo-mo, dives through a corridor filled with deadly laser traps. Here, as Milady, she slides under arrows and jumps through invisible razor wire (?).

  • Giant war machine dirigibles (pirate ships with a zeppelin in place of the sails) that menacingly float through the sky. Pandering to the Pirates of the Caribbean crowd, they’re also the scene of ridiculous mid-air cannonball battles. “What are they?” Freddie Fox’s King Louis XIII inquires. “Why, air-ships,” replies Christoph Waltz’s Cardinal Richelieu. Hah.

  • A pathetic lead characterization of D’Artagnan, with poor Logan Lerman (who I liked in 3:10 to Yuma and My One and Only, and made it out of Gamer relatively unscathed) floundering under the weight of it. Here, D’Artagnan is a cocky, unassailable action hero right from the start; we want to smack him every time he opens his mouth.

  • A scene in which one character explains something to D’Artagnan using overly complex language. They’re speaking English, but playing Frenchmen, so a confused D’Artagnan replies: “In French?” Hah!

  • A script that completely alters the story and characterizations from the source novel, but still tries to cram them into the same general plot. Ultimately, it doesn’t make a lick of sense; it’s almost as if someone read the Cliff Notes version of the novel and forced it into Hollywood formula that dictates who lives, who dies, and who can sleep with whom.

  • A Robbie Williams pop song over the closing credits. Yeah, that’s right: Take That’s When We Were Young.

And, oh yes, somewhere in here are the titular musketeers, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos, played by talented actors (Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, and Ray Stevenson) who make zero impression, outside of Macfayden’s sour Alan Rickman imitation. The villains – Waltz, Jovovich, Mads Mikkelsen as Rochefort, and Til Schweiger as Cagliostro (huh?) – fare somewhat better.

Positives: when it’s not filled with cartoonish CGI, the film looks great; the use of brilliant colors in period costumes and décor is often breathtaking. Introduction shots that establish the state of Europe using an intricate Risk-like board game map are cute.

I probably shouldn’t have rewatched the Lester version the night before seeing this new one; that film wasn’t perfect, but it was colored by a wonderfully surreal comic tone. Anderson (attempting comedy for the first time) tries to mimic that tone here, and fails miserably: broad performances, misplaced timing, and “jokes” that land with a thud are all underlined by an impossibly goofy score that would have seemed outdated in the 1940s.

But worst of all, this thing isn’t bad in a fun way (as, say Abduction might be): it’s a genuinely torturous experience that becomes a real chore to sit through, the most excruciating time I’ve spent in a cinema since Sucker Punch. It’s just about unfathomable to me, but The Three Musketeers has received (some) good reviews according to the Tomatometer; your experience may vary.

Note: In 2D and 3D, The Three Musketeers is screening in a Czech-dubbed version in most cinemas, but you can catch it in English (2D only) at CineStar Anděl and Cinema City Slovanský dům (and most other Cinema City locations).

Above review refers to the 2D version of the film; 3D should undoubtedly add something, as (in Resident Evil 4) Anderson was one of the few directors to use it successfully.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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