Dumb and Dumas
Normally, I like to eat healthily, as befits a man of my age and lifestyle – but that doesn't mean that once in a while I don't get a craving for a fat-saturated nastyburger with shrapnel fries washed down by a tooth-dissolving carbonated beverage. And once in a while I indulge this craving, because, you know, it is only once in a while.
The same applies in other areas of my life as well. Looking back it did occur to me that there'd been a preponderance of quite serious and/or worthy new releases discussed here or hereabouts of late (that's certainly how it's felt) and that it might very well be time for a jolly good old-fashioned piece of check-your-brain-at-the-door escapist entertainment. With this in mind, like a lamb to the slaughter I trotted along to see The Three Musketeers, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson – had this film been shown solely in the stereoscopic format, they could've called it The 3-D Musketeers. But it isn't (thankfully) so they can't.
The original novel is, of course, a classic of swashbuckling high adventure, written by the renowned author Alexandre Dumas. But you know, all Dumas ever did was write books, which hardly puts him in the same league as the creative genius who (let us not forget) both wrote and directed Resident Evil, Alien vs Predator and Death Race. Paul W.S. Anderson has cast his eye of wisdom over the original text and spotted those areas in which Dumas' writing was sadly deficient: most notably air-to-air combat, flamethrowers, and women in basques doing somersaults.
From the very beginning of the film, when lead musketeer Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) emerges from a Venetian canal rather like a ninja with an aqualung, it becomes clear that Anderson is making a few little tweaks and amendments to the story you may think you know. Well, actually, he just takes a massive dump on the original plot of the book.
Bits you may recognise do occasionally struggle to the surface – eventually we meet young adventurer D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman), who's off to Paris to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Musketeer, with said parent's blessing and a special gift: 'The weapon of a musketeer!' marvels D'Artagnan as he gazes upon it. Unfortunately, the gift in question is a sword, which to me just suggests that either he or Anderson hasn't thought the whole 'musketeer' concept through properly.
Even the bits which survive get mightily slapped about – the chunk of plot wherein our hero meets the titular trio by inadvertently challenging them all to duels makes it in, but his pretext for fighting Aramis (Luke Evans) is basically that the musketeer has given his horse a parking ticket. By this point my jaw was beginning to sag open somewhat.
However, the arrival in Paris of nasty Englishman the Duke of Buckingham (Landy Bloom), by airship, really marked the spot at which my higher functions began to flatline. Any resemblance to any previous version of this story, from this point on, is marginal and quite possibly a coincidence. Okay, deep breath: Evil old so-and-so Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) wants to seize power in France (he basically runs the place already so it's unclear why he's bothered) and to do so he wants to foment war with England, by framing Buckingham and the French Queen for an inappropriate liaison (which has not actually taken place). This involves planting some of her jewellery in the Tower of London.
To stop the war (or the 'coming apocalypse' according to a very silly voice-over) someone has to get the jewels back, and in the frame for this are D'Artagnan and his friends. Well, you may be thinking, none of this sounds too different. Oh, my friends! Do not be fooled! I promise you that Anderson's interest in the plot of the book pales in comparison to his interest in airships.
Despite the idea of a gasbag-slung galleon being a self-evidently moronic one, this movie is full of them: the musketeers attack the Tower of London in one, there's a mid-air battle between them, and towards the end one crashes into Notre Dame cathedral. The sensation of watching all this is rather as if the movie pins you back in your seat and beats you about the head with its own stupidity.
It is technically proficient but mindless in almost every way and horribly written and acted, with no attempt to make you believe this is any kind of seventeenth century. 'Your outfit's very retro,' the Prime Minister of England tells the King of France. And the acting is like a compendium of woodenness from practically the entire cast. Logan Lerman plays the hero like an irritating jock, but nearly everyone else is just as bad in their own way. Special notice must be given to James Corden as the servant Planchet, a comic relief turn with all the actual comedy value of a bombed orphanage. I can't really comprehend how anyone can be quite as unfunny as Corden is in this film. Every line falls flat, every gesture and expression is overdone to the point of mugging. I am shuddering even as I sit here and type.
That said – and this is the faintest of faint praise – Ray Stevenson is not too bad as Porthos, and Mads Mikkelson is reasonably effective as Rochefort. Nick Powell's fencing choreography (though not up to William Hobbs' standards) is perfectly acceptable too, when not obliterated by Anderson's camera movement.
Ah, Paul W.S. Anderson (the slightly unwieldy name is to avoid confusion with – don't laugh – the director of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood). I must confess that, while I didn't think it was perfect, I did enjoy Anderson's Event Horizon back in 1997 and thought the guy had potential. And yet every film of his I've seen since has, broadly speaking, been worse than the one before. His scripts are lacking in wit, originality, and atmosphere, and as a director he seems incapable of getting a good performance out of anyone, let alone people like Milla Jovovich (whose status as Mrs Anderson must explain why he keeps employing her) or Landy Bloom.
Ah, Landy Bloom. Back on the big screen again after what feels like quite a long break. Was it really worth coming back for this, Landy? Not content with giving yet another performance you could quite easily chop up and use to keep the fire going on a long winter night, Landy chooses to do it in one of the most startling hairstyles ever committed to posterity. A striking combination of goatee, quiff, and mullet, Landy resembles a minor rockabilly star in fancy dress. I can only imagine what it looks like in 3D.
Ah, 3D. As you may have gathered, my general policy is to avoid 3D whenever possible, so I can't really comment on how it works in this movie's case. It does show all the signs of having been designed for the format, which may be a point in its favour, but I doubt all the miniaturised airships floating past or swords jabbing labouredly at the camera will be enough of a distraction given the utterly horrible nature of the rest of it.
Paul W.S. Anderson, Orlando Bloom, gimmicky 3D. A film which has to contend with one of these things isn't always going to necessarily be awful, of course. One stuck with two of them is in pretty dire straits, though. And in the case of this film the three of them form some kind of dreadful astral conjunction, an alignment of horror which sucks all the fun and life and honesty out of this classic old adventure and transforms it into something actively offensive to the intelligence and spirit.
Can we please have The Three Musketeers ringfenced against this kind of vandalism in future? It's almost impossible to imagine a better version than the one Richard Lester made nearly 40 years ago. And it would also take a broader and more twisted mind than mine to imagine an adaptation more misconceived than this one. Comfortably the worst film I've seen at the cinema in many years – and I'm thinking about giving up burgers, too.