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Wednesday, November 2
The Three Musketeers (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2011)
The only outright serious moment in the film is its dolorous opening narration, recounting some half-assed play at historical accuracy before immediately cutting to Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) rising out of Venetian waters like Capt. Willard from Apocalypse Now. This exposes even the 10 seconds of seriousness as part of the gag, the first of many in a film that makes goofy fun of both sex and violence. And period costumery. Mustn't forget about that.
The basic plot kinda sorta follows Dumas' novel, with D'Artagnan (an almost endearingly terrible Logan Lerman) heading for Paris to join up with the musketeers and finding himself embroiled in a web of intrigue spun by the young king's chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz, who looks vaguely annoyed at having the only continental accent in the film). But then Athos' conniving love interest Milady (Milla Jovovich) steals stolen schematics for an airship designed by Leonard da Vinci and sells them to England, allowing the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) to get to France within mere hours, allowing him to insult the child king Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) over outdated fashion choices with greater ease.
Oh, right, and wage war. That too. Buckingham wants military superiority over France, while Richelieu pulls strings behind the curtain to ensure that the war will elevate him to open power. Richelieu seems to think that people vote on the whole king thing—maybe he should watch a certain Monty Python film to clarify this—but whatever. The end result is: fighting airships!
Anderson may make some tacky films but he is a competent shooter, and I confess that some shots here were positively delightful in their combination of spacing, rhythm and, when one considers the use of European architectural landmarks for steampunk swashbuckling, visual irony. A crack CGI team seamlessly adds in such garish, striking sights as those dueling man-of-wars within well-composed frames, and the epic action here comes off more formally austere than the muddled, artless orgies of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, films that exert a clear influence here. But even the more conventional swordfights are a blast, the musketeers fearlessly set against waves of sad-sack guards who look as if they just scratched out the next day's events in their planners and wrote "DEAD" before engaging our four heroes.
Various other intimate delights also caught my eye. Juno Temple steals the show with her marvelous facial acting as Queen Anne, always half-smiling with affection for her hapless but well-meaning husband and later in fear at Richelieu's plot to bring about war by shaming her. Her nervous, charming chemistry with Fox proves a damn sight more entertaining than Lerman's boorish entreaties to the comely handmaiden Constance, a romance so repellently dull and chauvinistic I half-expected D'Artagnan to just point at his crotch and raise his eyebrow expectantly. And for all the clever CGI and half-decent 3D, the best special effect in the film is Milla Jovovich, who is so impossibly limber in corsets and period dresses that she simply cannot be real. Also worthy of props is James Corden as the put-upon musketeer servant Planchet, the only comic element in the film to actually earn genuine laughs.
So yes, the plot is ridiculous, most of the intended (dialogue) humor hits a brick wall, and the climax can be hard to take even for those who surrender to the film's delirium. But it's a clever piece of fluff, and more successful at being mindless entertainment than the vast majority of pompously dim films that come out any given summer. I'd rather watch The Three Musketeers again than most of the movies it rips off, and it's the first Anderson film since Event Horizon that makes me curious to see what else he can do. Far from the best piece of escapism in a year already thin on good examples of blockbuster filmmaking, The Three Musketeers is nevertheless a surprisingly solid piece of work built out on the world's flimsiest foundation. It could collapse at any second, but that only makes it more exciting, doesn't it?