10.31.2011

The Three Musketeers (2011)



What do you get when you take a solid B-level cast of experienced character actors and give them a script sourced from the seminal adventure-genre novel and add a dash of steampunk, a rollicking soundtrack and imaginative staging of derring-do stunts and unabashed swashbuckling? You get A+ entertainment. After a summer of real hit-and-miss adventure blockbusters, this movie made no apologies for being exactly what it is and I enjoyed every minute.

The story is so pleasing that it has been filmed many times from almost the first days of motion pictures. IMDB records the earliest as 1903, though there is reference to just a fencing scene from The Three Musketeers dated 1898. It's been told in versions for Japanese and Russian cinema, and adapted to Mickey, Donald and Goofy, and even for Barbie. The novel by Alexander Dumas was first released as a newspaper serial entertainment in 1844. The tale of a country boy come to Paris to follow in his father's footsteps as a heroic musketeer isn't a classic; it is what defined "classic" when it comes to adventure.

Young D'Artagnan falls in with what's left of the noble protectors of the royal family in the form of three musketeers noted for their exploits, but fallen on harder times. They've been supplanted by a more modern force: the guard of the scheming *boo hiss* evil Cardinal Richelieu. Feeling their age and lack of funds, Aramis, Porthos and Athos are nevertheless beloved by the peasantry because when the impossible needs doing, they do it. Together they save the honor of the queen, dispatch numerous evildoers and stick a finger in the eye of the relentless Richelieu.

Such a sure-fire story seems like it ought to succeed every time on the big screen, but it has a mixed history. The 1973 version with Michael York and Faye Dunaway was the first I saw and it works as a true to story and time period rendition even though Charlton Heston plods a bit. The 1993 version with Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Rebecca DeMornay never rose above big name stars in costume running about saying lines. With the exception of Tim Curry's raving Richelieu, which is to the '93 version what Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham is to Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, there's no reason to see it.

There is every reason to see this version. It succeeds as a loose retelling of the basic story. The story strays from Dumas to allow for some steampunk sprinkles. Since I am often leery of steampunk, I worried that D'Artagnan would be wielding a laser, but thankfully my fears were unfounded. The steampunk elements stretch but don't break the mystique of the story about dashing ruffians. For example, the first caper is stealing DaVinci's plans for an airship. There's no airship in the Dumas, but the variation was used well and continued--rather than stalled--the forward motion of the already memorable plot. The costumes are not precise to the time period, allowing for stunts, swordplay and action sequences that are modern, especially from the nimble Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element). Her plotting superspy Milady DeWinter steps far outside the gender-limited role of the real time period, much as Irene Adler of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies does. This does not hurt me. At all.

There are anachronisms that may bother the student of history, such as lavish filming on the grounds of Versailles. Louis XIII is the king in the story, and Versailles was built by Louis XIV, but the movie never calls the palace Versailles either. The security in vaults could not be achieved without electricity. Maybe the introductory map and the one in Richelieu's floor have a few countries that didn't quite exist then. The lightweight, airtight materials used to build the airships didn't exist, but the movie doesn't really dwell on how the thing works, just implies that DaVinci's genius was sufficient.

In spite of all of this, the takeaway for the viewer is quick swordplay on display without tons of slow-motion and unnecessary acrobatics. Nobody runs up a wall to flip upside down as they parry and thrust. It's a dramatic, suspenseful story, told with humor and wit, about deadly swordsmen fighting for country and a cause and that's exactly what we get. This is a made up movie based on a made up story that was all about, you know, fun. Greed, politics, romance and heroism never grow old and they are played out with a lively and fearless commitment that made a tale I already knew seem surprising and renewed.

The three actors in charge of our musketeers (including Robert Stevenson of Rome who is a personal favorite) play their parts with panache, wearing their period costumes with such comfort that the actor disappears. Logan Lerman was a cocky enough D'Artagnan, good enough that I forgive him for Percy Jackson. The more famous Orlando Bloom appeared to be having great fun being one of the bad guys and sporting his outrageous pompadour as he delivered his smug lines. Jovovich is by far the most athletic Milady DeWinter ever, without losing the intelligent duplicity that makes the character timelessly wicked. Christoph Waltz, who was completely wasted as the bad guy in The Green Hornet, is an intelligent, formidable Richelieu. 

In fact, what really came through with this movie is that the writers didn't mess with what worked: the core story. But they also had fun with it, as eagerly selling pure entertainment as Dumas did nearly 170 years ago.

It was well worth the time spent watching and the matinee admission price. Bright, eye-catching visuals filled the screen without trying too hard. The score by Paul Haslinger reminded me of scores from both the Pirates movies and the new Sherlock Holmes, and it sold the derring-do along with the performances.

Final note: the PG-13 is unnecessarily harsh. It's PG at worst. There are no swear words, hardly even any blood and not a bare boobie to be seen. If your child can handle the Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, your child can easily handle this movie. 

The Three Musketeers (2011)


One-Line Summary The Three Musketeers (2011):A new slightly steampunk version of the classic tale that succeeds in being rollicking entertainment, both by staying to the basic formula of the novel and adding fresh, modern effects that support that story.

What's It Worth? The Three Musketeers (2011): If you can catch it before it leaves the theaters, it's worth a matinee ticket. A real cure for the repetitive unoriginality of many action-adventure blockbusters, plus there's honest-to-goodness swordplay. Big Screen

Watch it Again? The Three Musketeers (2011): Would definitely watch it again, look for it on cable or picking up the DVD (when the studio deigns to release it to the lowly DVD market) on the cheap. sure