If you're any fan of Alexander Dumas' novel 'The Three Musketeers,' save yourself the aneurism and pass on its latest screen incarnation. (Warning: There will be spoilers
The new 'Musketeers' opens with a prologue where the famous Three - Athos (Matthew Macfayden), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) - are working on mission for the King along with Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich). After a successful plot to steal an ancient Da Vinci plan for a flying battleship - yes, really - Milady drugs the Three and steals the plans for the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
Flash forward a year later, and we meet young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman), sent off by his parents to join the king's Musketeers. Initially at odds with the Musketeers, he quickly is accepted by them as they team up against the Cardinal's Guards, led by Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen). Meanwhile, Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) is conspiring to seize power from King Louie (Freddie Fox) using Milady to provoke a war with England.
The best thing 'The Three Musketeers' has going for it is its cast. D'Artagnan is a plum of a part for a young actor - swagger, swordplay and seduction - and Lerman carries it well. Jovovich seamlessly vacillates between the conniving Milady and the endearing Milady well, even though Milady was never meant to be endearing. Waltz plays a wonderfully understated Richelieu, and Fox's King Louie is a perfect fop, but not annoyingly so.
However, while the ensemble of Musketeers works best as a trio, McFayden's Athos seems bored when handed the spotlight. Several times Bloom apparently forgets he's playing the Duke of Buckingham, not Captain Jack Sparrow's sidekick, complete with flappy arms, not to mention a pretty fantastic faux hawk. I really hope this isn't the new British period character trend. And Queen Anne (Juno Temple) and Constance (Gabriella Wilde) prove there is no shortage of cookie-cutter blonde skinnies in Hollywood. Neither brings anything memorable to their roles, especially Wilde who has the same expression on her face whether she's looking at D'Artagnan or the ground ... or tied to the bow of a flying battleship.
'Musketeers'' other positive is the cinematography. It was obviously filmed for 3D (I saw the 2D version) so there is a lot of depth and vivid color, even in 2D. What I loved most were the sword fighting scenes. Are you ready for this? There wasn't one shaky-cam on set. Really. These are the fight scenes we've been waiting for: wide-angle steady shots so you could really take in the impressive choreography.
The final duel between D'Artagnan and Rochefort was my favorite part - no gags, shaky-cam or cheesy banter. Even the final exchange between the two, which easily could have been played for laughs, respects the gravity of the moment.
Get past all that, however, and you're left with some very cringe-worthy sequences aimed at the lowest common denominator. Athos' shtick
is that he can move silently underwater, black face mask in place and guns or swords crossed on his back to launch a surprise attack on his enemies. And, unlike the novel, Constance and Milady both live to have happy endings, or semi-happy in Milady's case. Or semi-endings, since the epilogue leaves us well prepared for a sequel, as Buckingham's fleet of ships - both maritime and airborne - are headed to do battle with France.
The dialogue begs for MST3K
commentary. When Athos is unable to bring himself to kill Milady, she throws herself off of the Musketeers' flying battleship into the English Channel. As she disappears, Porthos puts his arm around Athos and says, "At least she died the way she lived: on her terms." And Athos says, "She did it for me. She knew I couldn't live with myself if I killed her." Gag and wretch. Sadly, this is par for the course here, and a painful distraction from the action-packed story.
Also - have I mentioned the flying airships? And that those flying airships are armed with flame throwing cannons and rudimentary machine guns? And that Athos is a quasi-ninja? Oh, and Milady channels Jennifer Garner in 'Alias,' slinking through hallways blocked by cross-crossing metal wires (not actual lasers, thank goodness) in her corset and garters. It's all punctuated by 'Matrix'-style slow-mo action shots. That's what we call "trying too hard." I was ready to leave before the last half-hour.
'The Three Musketeers'
might be worth a rental if you're already paying for Netflix. Otherwise, it's not worth the price of a theater ticket.