It's a bit of an odd experience to be constantly bombarded by lavish visuals, stirring score, elaborate action, and nonstop flash, only to come away feeling absolutely nothing in the process, but that's exactly what director Paul W.S. Anderson manages to pull off with his showy yet utterly hollow take on 'The Three Musketeers.' By sprucing up the classic tale with modern action sensibilities, Anderson offers some outwardly pleasing thrills, but completely fails to engage on any kind of emotional level. With characters completely devoid of development and a plot that really only exists as a road map to each new action scene, the film presents a marginally entertaining but ultimately vacuous experience.
Based on Alexandre Dumas' classic novel, the movie follows the swashbuckling exploits of three 17th century heroes, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans) as they strive to protect France from duplicitous threats. After leaving home in search of adventure, the young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) ends up joining the legendary trio of musketeers, and together they attempt to thwart the sinister plans of the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and the beautiful but deadly Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich). As the conspiracy against the crown grows deeper and more nefarious, the valiant foursome must face seemingly insurmountable odds with the very fate of their country hanging in the balance.
Having already been adapted to the screen countless times over the years, in order to make this version stand out, Anderson and his writers attempt to inject some modern sensibilities into the proceedings. Unfortunately, their efforts mostly fall flat, and though there are a few original aspects to their approach, they're all disappointingly superficial, favoring stylistic bravado over competent storytelling and fleshed out characters.
The director brings a lot of cinematic flash, injecting the numerous action scenes with contemporary flourishes. Dramatic angles, quick cuts, and lots of slow motion pervade the picture. All of the choreography and stunt work are given a very modern twist, evoking a plethora of recent, post 'Matrix' action, suspense, and heist films. Hell, there's even a 17th century version of a laser beam break-in scenario, which sees Jovovich's character finagle her way through sharp wires. In a rather drastic and seemingly random departure from the novel, Anderson also throws in massive, floating airships, elevating the film's already inflated sense of spectacle, resulting in some fun but decidedly dumb set pieces. While all of the movie's elaborate stunts and fight sequences are admittedly entertaining and sometimes even exciting, the director's gaudy visual techniques are extremely shallow, dressing up mundane events and by-the-numbers plotting with meaningless camera movements and empty stylistic trickery.
Fun action can only take a film so far, and unfortunately the script is lacking on all levels. The characters are essentially cardboard cutouts with basic, stock personalities and overly simplistic arcs. None of the musketeers are given much in the way of development. They slash their swords, offer an occasional quippy line and… well, not much else. Athos gets some semblance of a subplot, focusing on his doomed relationship with de Winter, but Aramis and Porthos are essentially nonentities. In fact, the musketeers themselves disappear for a sizable chunk of the running time, with the story instead switching gears toward Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Watlz) and his silly attempts to manipulate the King (Freddie Fox) and Queen (Juno Temple). For all of its shadowy political intrigue, the plot itself is actually paper thin and the movie's attempts at sweeping romance are laughable.
Given the mediocre material they had to work with, the majority of the cast is decent. Under different circumstances I could easily see Macfayden, Stevenson and Evans as great choices for their roles, it's just a shame that the writers fail to give them anything interesting to do. Jovovich is fun to watch, especially in her numerous action scenes, but Christoph Waltz is completely wasted. Orlando Bloom is surprisingly amusing as the smarmy Duke and I have to give the actor credit for playing against type. Poor James Corden has the unenviable task of serving as the film's comic relief, and the various eye-rolling lines he has to deliver are quite embarrassing.
This brings us to Logan Lerman who is essentially the story's main protagonist. I haven't seen the young actor in anything else, but here he is pretty dreadful. As D'Artagnan, Lerman seems incredibly out of place and while he handles the stunt work well, his performance is extremely one-note and his attempts at emoting can be downright painful to watch. Coupled with the awful writing, his pedestrian acting makes it impossible to care about the character, and therefore by extension the movie itself.
Paul W.S. Anderson's 'The Three Musketeers' is an attempt at mass market, popcorn entertainment. The director intentionally throws logic out the window in favor of pure spectacle, engendering a cartoon-like atmosphere of simple heroics, basic clichés, and bombastic action. While I can appreciate certain aspects of this approach, the end results are far too unoriginal and lifeless to sustain any kind of emotional connection or interest. The lavish production design is actually quite impressive, but any momentary bursts of imagination are sadly wasted on a disposable script that fails to do anything even remotely clever or memorable. The action scenes offer some isolated thrills but there is absolutely nothing of substance to latch onto, and the film's lead remains wholly unconvincing throughout. It's a visually pretty but exceedingly empty affair, resulting in a sporadically amusing but totally forgettable experience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Summit Entertainment offers 'The Three Musketeers' to 3D Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. Both are Region A locked, BD50 discs, sitting on opposing panels inside a blue, eco-cutout case and includes a shiny cardboard slipcover. After a couple skippable trailers, the disc goes to the standard main menu selection with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'The Three Musketeers' swing their way unto Blu-ray with an exceptional 1080p/MVC encode that thrills and amazes as they save France from the brink of war. Filmed with a combination of HD digital cameras and the PACE Fusion 3D cameras Anderson used on 'Resident Evil: Afterlife,' the presentation is simply phenomenal, with a marvelous sense of depth from beginning to end.
The long hallways and corridors of King Louis's mansion reach deep into the screen while characters walk about them as if existing within a three-dimensional space. Background objects genuinely seem to move far in the distance, separate from everything else at the foreground, and random debris during the explosive finale fly toward the viewer with an appreciable sense of realism. The picture doesn't offer much in terms of the usual gimmicks where items stick out from the screen. The focus, here, is on dimensionality, one which feels natural to on-screen events. The first time we see Buckingham's airship arrive at the front lawn of the King's palace, the figurehead and bow bulge forward, creating a feel of immensity and reach. Other scenes, like exterior shots around the King's estate and garden or when the Musketeers are walking about the airship, come with a wonderful pop-up-book effect in which actors appear to move independently of the background.
During all this, the 2.35:1-framed transfer displays razor-sharp details and crystal-clear clarity. The baroque architecture of the palace shows cleanly-defined lines along the ornately-decorated walls, and the tiniest features of the chandeliers remain plainly through the dark glasses. Hair and facial complexions have a terrific lifelike texture, and garishly extravagant outfits of characters are very distinct, revealing every thread and wrinkle on the various fabrics. Contrast is spot-on with crisp whites throughout, allowing for a great deal of visibility in the distance. Black levels are inky rich and true with excellent shadow delineation of poorly-lit interiors. Primaries are vividly-saturated to give the photography a lively and animated appeal while bold secondary hues add a great deal of warmth. Overall, the 'Musketeers' arrive with a reference-level 3D presentation.
Not to be left behind, the audio also delivers the goods with an equally impressive and demo-worthy DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The design features a precise, plainly audible dialogue reproduction, which really makes noticeable the total lack of a British accent on the parts of Jovovich and Lerman. Voices move across the front soundstage fluidly, along with the minor, off-screen effects which open the imaging and generate a wide, spacious feel. Dynamic range is terrifically extensive and room-penetrating, providing distinct clarity to every piece of timber and debris that flies across the room. Paul Haslinger's score, which sounds suspiciously much like Hans Zimmer's music for 'The Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise, enjoys the lucidity and timbre of such a pitch-perfect mid-range.
The real showstopper in this lossless mix, however, is in the rear activity and the powerfully deep low-frequency effects. Extending the soundfield and generating a wonderfully satisfying sense of envelopment, atmospherics often fill the back speakers with the subtle sounds of birds, wind blowing and the cheers of the crowd. When on the airships, various rattles and squeaks can be heard all around. During scenes of battle, particularly the main fight at the end, pans and directionality are flawless, spreading random objects across the room convincingly and creating a highly-entertaining soundscape. Best of all, a shockingly vigorous and wall-rattling low-end adds a forceful punch to explosions and canon fire, making it a magnificent high-rez track sure to please everyone.
Summit collects a nice set of special features, which are also found on the DVD.
As Steven Cohen so succinctly puts it: "Paul W.S. Anderson's 'The Three Musketeers' is a mindless, simplistic, and utterly disposable take on the classic novel." There's no better way to essentially describe this sometimes-yawn-inducing modernized vision of Alexandre Dumas's adventures tales — lots of pretty visuals, but nothing going on beneath the surface. The 3D Blu-ray, on the other hand, is utterly spectacular and one of the best live-action 3D presentations around, accompanied by an amazing, demo-worthy lossless audio that will make walls shake. Supplements are decent but informative, making the overall package worth the purchase only if hungering for some awesome 3D material.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.