47th Chicago Film Festival: ‘The Three Musketeers’ just isn’t worth it

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The Three Musketeers

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

USA, 2011

Alexandre Dumas’ tale of the Three Musketeers is quite probably the quintessential swashbuckler. It’s been adapted countless times in countless different languages, and is a certifiable classic of adventure and intrigue. But this latest adaptation is a prime example of what happens when you give a child the gist of the story and a copy of Final Draft.

In recent years, there has been a surge of popularity in taking classic characters and modernizing them a tad to appeal to today’s action-hungry audiences. We saw this with Sherlock Holmes, which did stay close to the core of its characters but morphed it into a stylized, more action-centric popcorn film, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which isn’t based on any specific characters but sees some famous historical and legendary figures doing battle with magical forces. The Three Musketeers is the latest victim, changing out the original story’s classical appeal in favor of 3D and (I wish I weren’t about to write this next part…) airships.

But what were we expecting? The first sign of trouble comes from the director of choice, Paul W.S. Anderson. He’s never been one to tie himself to story or character, but rather the fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action. At times this has suited him just fine, but not here. Here it’s just grating, and incredibly out of place when you consider the source material. And even that seems to take a backseat to Milla Jovovich (her and Anderson are married, but that shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s ever bothered to watch one of their many films together). The film seems so concerned with showing us how attractive and badass she is, that it’s easy to forget there are other characters there.

But there are, and to be honest the saving grace seems to come from the efforts of the actors to portray them at least decently. Unfortunately the script does them no favors. The writers apparently thought it would be a good idea to litter the script with pieces of modernized dialogue, and as a result none of these characters really feel like the characters we’ve seen so many times before. Perhaps that was the intention, but if it was then it was still an odd choice. There’s already so much about this film that sets it apart. The action is more modern, although this isn’t the first time that’s been done to the story (I apologize for reminding you about The Musketeer just not), and the presence of the airships, which I still can’t get over, lends the whole thing a steampunk flare. But did anyone want steampunk in this? If you want to do that, then just write your own steampunk story, don’t change around a classic piece of literature in order to fit your desires.

It’s honestly difficult to find a positive aspect to The Three Musketeers. If there is anything good to say about it, it’s that it isn’t necessarily an ugly film. But even that comes at a price, because it’s in 3D. There have been effective arguments made in favor of the 3D format, about how it can be used as a tool for deeper immersion into the story and the world in which it takes place. But that’s not what’s happening here. Here it’s a total gimmick, complete with poking swords. Maybe 3D could be used to tell a great story, but this film just proves that it’s overstaying its welcome.

In a way, you really can’t blame them for wanting to try something a little different. After all, the Musketeers have been around for years now, and have been on screen so many different times that there comes a point where it just becomes stale. Maybe a faithful adaptation isn’t something that audiences want to watch. But is this? Do we really want a loud, insufferable, throwaway piece of action fluff? Next time (because let’s not kid ourselves, there will be a next time) they should think about toning some of what this has to offer down, because then it might be worth something. But as it stands, it’s not worth the price of 3D, it’s not even worth the price of 2D.

The Three Musketeers just isn’t worth it.

– William Bitterman

The Chicago Film Festival runs from October 6th-20th. Visit the festival’s official home page.

1 Comment
  1. Bill Mesce says

    Richard Lester’s THREE & FOUR MUSKETEERS is the gold standard for this one. For all its cheeky humor and elegantly choreographed derring-do, Lester also managed to stay remarkably close to Dumas’ novel. And, man, did it look absolutely gorgeous!

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