Logan Lerman, Luke Evans and Matthew Macfadyen in The Three Musketeers.
Wikipedia lists over 20 different film adaptations of The Three Musketeers, dating as far as back 1903. It's such a rousing adventure story filled with enough distinctive characters that it's easy to see why it gets remade so often. Even a so-so adaptation like this one manages to provide some entertainment.
Despite some steampunk window dressing, this version follows the outline of the original plot, even if it leaves out some of the details. A young D'Artagnan (played by baby faced Logan Lerman of Percy Jackson fame) travels to Paris to join King Louis XIII's Musketeers. Upon arriving in Paris he becomes acquainted with Athos, Aramis and Porthos, the three musketeers of the title. After being challenged by all three of them to a duel, which turns into him joining them for a fight against the Cardinal's men, D'Artagnan becomes a musketeer. Together they must stop a plot by the evil Cardinal Richelieu to start a war between France and England by preventing him from framing the Queen of France of committing adultery with the English Duke of Buckingham.
Two of the most interesting characters in any adaptation of this story are Athos and Milady de Winter. Athos is the darkest of the musketeers who shares a history with the evil and conniving Milady. In other versions they were once man and wife, but here they were once simply allies in a scheme, with Athos in love with Milady, but her simply using him and quite willing to betray him before it was all over. Matthew Macfadyen is quite good here as Athos, playing it all quite dramatically, while Milla Jovovich is a scene stealer as Milady. Where in earlier versions, such as Richard Lester's classic Musketeer films of the 1970s, she was portrayed as pure evil in feminine form, here Milla keeps the feminine wiles, but adds in an acrobatic fighting style that is completely anachronistic, but quite entertaining and fitting to the film's style.
The steampunk sensibility comes into play with the use of airship technology. Supposedly based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci, it is quite literally a ship carried by a hot air balloon. There are some cool visuals provided by this, but a climactic battle between two of them is rather silly when you think that if one or both of the ships aimed their cannons at the balloons instead of the ship, the battle would be over quite quickly. It does look pretty cool though.
This is definitely a light hearted adventure tale. The cast is all quite good, with plenty of camaraderie to go around. The villains are fairly disappointing however. Waltz as Richelieu keeps his performance pretty restrained. I would have liked to see him do a bit more scenery chewing. Likewise, Mads Mikkelsen never comes across that threatening. Until he finally does battle with D'Artagnan, most of his scenes involve him saying things like, "Kill them" before he turns to ride away, leaving his inept men to fail to finish the job. Only Milla comes across as truly dangerous. Orlando Bloom (remember when he had a career?) does a nice job as the rather foppish Duke of Buckingham. His sartorial digs at King Louis are quite amusing.
Visually the movie is a treat to watch, with its vivid colors and plenty of action. Obviously the filmmakers were aiming for a family audience as the fights and deaths are all kept quite bloodless.
I would never call this version a classic, but I was fairly entertained by it. Should a sequel be made, as the ending so clearly anticipates, I would happily go to see it.
Matthew Macfadyen, Gabrielle Wilde and Luke Evans in The three Musketeers
I enjoyed the Gene Kelly/Lana Turner 1948 version, but not so much the 1993 Charlie Sheen/Chris O'Donnell installment. The quintessential interpretation is the 1974 version with Oliver Reed and Raquel Welch. It best combines action/adventure, mirth and some real emotion.
This remake attempts to differentiate itself by adding flying ships and making Milady a modern day acrobatic assassin. Both gimmicks work as window dressing but do not add any depth to the film. The ships do not make sense. Why do they not have flat bottoms so they can land and balance upright?
I found Jovovich's Milady to be less threatening than Faye Dunaway's. Jovovich is merely a self serving criminal, whereas Dunaway is pure evil. Jovovich fights her own battles, while Dunaway gets others to do it for her. She gets her hands dirty when she has to but she could teach Jovovich a few things about manipulation.
Another thing missing is the sex. In the 1974 version, Michael York's D'Artagnan has sex with several women, including an encounter with Milady. Lerman's D'Artagnan never gets past one kiss. Constance is married in the 1974 version, while here a husband is never mentioned. The biggest sexual difference is that in the 1974 film, the Queen does in fact have an affair with Lord Buckingham. In this version it is all a lie created by the Cardinal. I am not sure how the affair plays out in the Alexandre Dumas novel.
As in all the film adaptations, this one is well paced and moves right along. As Scott pointed out, the fight aboard the flying ships is ridiculous but it is action packed and continues onto the top of a cathedral. However, D'Artagnan's line to Rochefort is groan inducing, "You should have apologized to my horse." Really?
Like the 1974 version, this installment offers the possibility of a sequel. As this first part has no more value than eye candy, a sequel sparks very little interest. For my money, the 1974 version and it's 1975 sequel have yet to be topped.
Photos © Copyright Summit Entertainment (2011)