Review: The Three Musketeers (12A) / Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson / Screenplay by: Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies / Starring: Logan Lerman, Ray Stevenson, Mads Mikkelsen, Luke Evans, Matthew Macfadyen, Christoph Waltz, Milla Jovovich, Orlando Bloom
If you’ve not already deleted it from your recent memory, recall for just a moment ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ which appalled most right-thinking cinema-goers earlier this year and yet, frustratingly, hoovered up tumps and tumps of money all over the world, dammit. Remember just how bad it was, how sluggish, lumbering, lazy, self-indulgent and frankly unspectacular. And how bloody long. Here, astonishingly, is the antidote to that ghastly, cynical abhorrence. Here’s the film that’s everything ‘On Stranger Tides’ could have been and really should have been. Here’s the film that swashes all the buckles ‘On Stranger Tides’ mislaid so carelessly. Here’s ‘The Three Musketeers’, directed by, of all people, the much-derided Paul W.S. Anderson (best known for the apparently endless ‘Resident Evil’ movie series - one of my guilty pleasures, I’m only slightly ashamed to admit) who has somehow, against every imaginable odd, turned out a big, mad romping comic strip adventure guaranteed to boil the blood of Alexander Dumas purists even as its heady mixture of swordfights, ludicrous (and wilfully anachronistic) spectacle wins the rest of us over by sheer force of numbers.
Make no mistake about it, ‘The Three Musketeers’ is nonsense, popcorn filmmaking of the trashiest order, and yet it’s done with such zest and fun that it’s hard to be offended by a film which has its tongue so far in its cheek it’s virtually drawing blood. And if it’s spectacle you want, it’s here in spades in some of the most breath-taking effects sequences I‘ve seen in years - some of which, charmingly, were actually achieved by the use of miniatures instead of relentless CGI. We’re on fairly familiar solid ground here at first as the film follows the traditions of previous film versions of the book by uniting the fresh-faced D’Artagnan (played here by bland newcomer Logan Lerman, the film’s only real weak link) travels to Paris and meets up with disillusioned Musketeers Athos (Matthew McFadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson). Before long the four are involved in some admittedly-woolly plot about stolen jewellery (the safety of which appears to vital in determining the future security of France and its foppish lovestruck King (Freddie Fox) and the double dealings of the duplicitous Cardinal Richlieu (Christoph Waltz) and his one-eyed henchman Rochefort (Mads Mikkelson) and not forgetting Anderson’s missus Milla Jovovich who gets to practice her best ‘Resident Evil’ moves , somersaulting through tripwire designed to protect the precious jewellery and whizzing down escape ropes like some 18th century Tom Cruise. Comic relief of the ‘useless fat bloke’ variety is provided by James Corden as Planchet (played by the late and legendary Roy Kinnear in the classic 1970s Richard Lester ‘Musketeer’ movies ) who is either endearing/irritating (delete according to taste).
After much japery and swordplay, the Musketeers take the only course of action open to them to retrieve the craftily-pilfered jewels. They somehow get hold of a sailing ship packed with… er… machine guns and flamethrowers and tether it to a massive dirigible air balloon. Unfortunately boo-hiss baddy Rochefort, in a classic ‘mine’s bigger that yours’ gambit, has somehow managed to get an even bigger one (oo-er) and before long, the two ships are blasting seven bells out of each other in the air above Paris. Here’s where you really need to finally give up on any expectation of ‘The Three Musketeers’ paying anything other than the vaguest lip service to the source material, just as the film seems to be saying ‘To Hell with this, look what we can do…’ and fills the screen with relentless action, from the aerial battle itself to a thrilling final rooftop sword fight between D’Artagnan and Rochefort before the inevitable slightly cutesy resolution which, you’ve guessed it, can’t avoid the ‘One for all, all for one’ calling cry of the Musketeers that the audience has been waiting for. If ‘The Three Musketeers’ has any resonance in the 21st century, it’s a scene which can’t help but send a shiver up the spine. As, indeed, does the coda, which sets up nicely a sequel which I'm hoping comes along sooner rather than later.
At a lean 110 minutes Anderson’s film (yes, it’s in 3D and yes, it’s neither better or worse than any other 3D experience I’ve endured this year) doesn’t hang about and it doesn’t outstay its welcome, lessons that a certain ’Pirates’ franchise need to learn for any future Jack Sparrow outings. ‘The Three Musketeers’, meanwhile, is ultimately just great fun. It’s a movie that’ll either really annoy you if you expect some historical verisimilitude or even some resemblance to a book you might have read twenty years or more ago or will, much more likely, just entertain you with its swordplay and its bangs and flashes, its inherent stupidity and its relentless sense of fun. Oh, for God’s sake, just go and have a good time and stop worrying about art.
Expected rating: 5 out of 10
‘The Three Musketeers’ is swashing its buckle all over the UK now.