I did not go into this newest version of The Three Musketeers with high expectations. In point of fact, I expected the film to be kind of bad. I find myself forced to confess a reluctant admiration for just how bad it turned out to be.
What I expected was a historically inaccurate melodrama, with some good swordfights, cheesy dialogue, a stable pretty men and an abundance of pretty costumes. I got… a historically inaccurate… something. I think it bordered on theater of the absurd, but I can’t come up with a film equivalency. Oh, and (spoiler alert) airships.
I just—there are almost not words to express my feelings for this movie. “Huh” and “WTF” and “yes, naturally, that” and “terrible” and “why” rush in quick succession to mind. And yet I did not completely hate the theatrical experience of seeing this movie on the big screen. I am still smiling when I think about it, actually. Because if nothing else, this movie was fun. It was ridiculous. It was a constant surprise, because no matter how bad and ridiculous it got, they kept finding ways to make it worse, and every new low was unexpected. I think if I had seen it another week, I might have been less amused by this film, but after a week of Very Serious, Because We Are A Serious Film Festival movies, I was in the perfect place mentally to appreciate something that was just trying to take the audience on an adventure.
I mean, the film tipped its hand within the first frame by describing 17th century Venice as “Venice, Italy,” followed within 60 seconds by someone emerging from a canal in—no joke—a diving suit complete with full mask and breathing tube. At that point you just have to recognize that you are no longer in Dumas’ story, and roll with it. Or leave.
I rolled with it. I rolled with it past blatant riffs off of The Princess Bride (“Oh, you mean this gate key?”), a woman in stays and backless heeled mules somehow being able to run faster than bullets, the reckless destruction of an entire vault of secret da Vinci plans, and straight into the mustache-twirling hands of Orlando Bloom in his worst performance yet. And that was just the first five minutes. There was more crazy where that came from. Oh, so much more.
Also so much more homage. Let’s see, what all was there…. A very Game of Thrones map (and theme music to accompany the map!) showing where all the major players were and where they were going every time there was a large location change; a very Inigo/Man in Black duel; a very Stardust-esque airship or two; and a very Beauty and the Beast final battle on the roof of a castle, with gargoyles. Possibly there was even a hint of the Mansfield Park epilogue in the final scene with our heroes. It was like some producer had a grab bag of other movies and when they got stuck with the plot they would just pull a new movie to reference out of the bag—kind of like what South Park accused Family Guy of doing to form its jokes.
The acting was almost universally bad, with Bloom as the nadir and almost everyone else delivering performances either one-note or so monotone as to be no note at all. Three exceptions. Milla Jovovich made quite an excellent Lady de Winter, and my only problem with her character was the ridiculousness of Milady as a steampunk James-Bond-like master spy, not how Jovovich played the part. Christoph Waltz was fabulous as Cardinal Richelieu. Deliciously self-satisfied and manipulative. The scenes between him and Milady were electric, easily the best of the film. And finally Planchet, the musketeers’ hapless servant, was hilarious, the bright thread that cut through the mediocrity of the rest of the performances. That was an actor for whom this was a golden opportunity and not a paycheck, and he went for it.
If the acting was flat, the dialogue was sunken. No wit, no zest, just line after line of non sequiturs, anachronistic speeches, or random clichés. The characters were given no depth—lip service was paid to Aramis’s brooding ex-priest guilt complex and Athos’ unhealthy obsession with Lady de Winter and Porthos’ love of drink and women, but it was definitely all tell and no show. The king and queen were both helpless victims of a wicked plot; all the complexity and emotional quandaries of the book were castrated in favor of a black-and-white “them evil, us good” simplicity. I don’t blame the script writers for that. It was for the best that they didn’t tax themselves to add any actual emotional weight to a nonsensical plotline they had to somehow explain. The costumes were clearly polyester and rayon. The action scenes were poorly blocked and caught in the no man’s land between real, exciting action and comedic, over-the-top action–you couldn’t take them seriously, but at the same time they were not so swashbucklingly fabulous that you didn’t try. The fights were just sort of there, very, “the script says we fight here, fuck if we can figure out why, but heave, ho, we’ll touch tips anyway.”
On the positive side, there were a couple exciting moments visually. The evil pirate airship, I have to note in particular, was cool. I laughed with glee every time it appeared.
There isn’t much good to say about this film except that, as ridiculous as it was, it is the kind of ridiculous that is fun to laugh at. The Three Musketeers is so bad it’s almost good again, if you are the type who likes to MST3000 movies. This film is definitely good for that. But that’s about all it’s good for.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.