Monday, October 24, 2011

A CUT AND PASTE PISTACHE – “The Three Musketeers” is a fun, though highly derivative, film.

I did not go into this film with the highest of expectations, especially after watching the trailers with its heavy reliance on steam punk imagery and Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay bombast. So imagine my surprise at finding myself enjoying “The Three Musketeers”, the latest cinematic reinterpretation of Alexander Dumas’ literary classic; and believe me, “reinterpretation” is the correct term because I’m sure Dumas would never have imagined the incorporation of such fantastical elements such as flying air ships. The story follows the skeleton of Dumas’ novel: Young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman, “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) seeks to become a Musketeer alongside Athos (Matthew MacFedyen, “Robin Hood”, “Frost/Nixon”), Porthos (Ray Stevenson, “Punisher War Zone”, “Thor”) and Aramis (Luke Evans, “Robin Hood”, “Clash Of The Titans”) against the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Waltz, “Inglorious Basterds”, “The Green Hornet”,) his Captain of the Guard, Rochefort (a despicably oily Mads Mikkelsen, “Casino Royale”) and the Duke of Buckingham (an almost painful to watch Orlando Bloom, he of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame). 

Under the serviceable direction of Paul W.S. Anderson (the “Resident Evil” series) and screenplay by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies, this film differs from previous cinematic forays by presenting more fantastical, H.G. Wellsian elements into the mix. Given that this film is the umpteenth version of Dumas’ classic, any thought of originality is thrown out the window. The film is a hodgepodge of elements of different films: A little bit of Indy/Belloq rivalry from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” here, a bit of the clad in ninja black theatrics of “Batman” there (though admittedly, done much better here and makes for an argument against the bat armor argument in the Christopher Nolan films). In fact, a significant part of the third act lifts almost verbatim from the climactic battle scenes of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” (which took me completely out of the film, right down to the use of an actual line from "Kahn". The only thing that seemed to be missing was a reference to the Genesis Device). The heavy use of ships and Bloom’s presence are evocative of Disney’s mega “Pirates” franchise, made even more so by the Hans Zimmer- lite scorings of Paul Haslinger.  In many cases the pilfering of previous sources are glaringly jarring. But then, it’s been argued that storytelling originality is now non-existent and it’s all about taking old elements and rearranging them in a fresh manner. Also, there are moments wherein there are head scratching, unexplained leaps of logic that are used to propel the story forward.

Such swiping would be almost insulting if it weren’t for the fact that they are offset by the films breezy pacing and the mostly earnest performances of actors involved.  In Lerman’s D’Artagnan, we finally get a character whose youthful exuberance is endearing rather than annoying. MacFadyen’s Athos wears his pain and honor well, though he plays his character a tad joyless especially when up against his Catwoman-like lover/nemesis, Milady De Winter (played by Milla Jovovich, “Resident Evil” films and wife of the director), whose performance attempts to combine the slyness of Faye Dunaway’s interpretation with the physicality of her Alice character with mixed results.  Those who saw the banal evil of Waltz’ Landa in “Inglorious Basterds” will find his performance of Cardinal Richelieu lacking, though hardly a supreme disappointment. He enjoys himself with his part. Though very wooden as always, the same can be said of Bloom who seems to relish in the fact that for once he gets to play the bad guy. Though limited in scope, he does seem to be enjoying himself thoroughly. Mads Mikkelsen plays Rochefort as the quintessential villain one loves to hate.  

Unlike other “Musketeer” films, which many of the conflicts came more from the verbal repartee and subtle, chessman machinations than actual swordplay, this one wears its physicality like a badge of honor, employing some impressive fight choreography (even if it is parsed out with the already worn-out-its-welcome slow motion in the midst of battle. At least here it’s put to good use to showcase some of the intricacies of the fight choreography), and one of the few films in which proper forms and stances are represented in the choreography, though that is something stunt combatants would appreciate.

If there is one problem with the performances, it’s that there seems to be too much fun. Most of the Musketeer films (save perhaps for the atrocious, self-aware Chris O’Donnell vehicle from Disney a few years back), had an air of the blasé but still hints of menace and danger. In this film, the stakes, while high, seem devoid of urgency or menace. Again, despite their playing memorable heavies in past roles, Waltz and Mikkelsen seem muted in their villainy; whether due to the direction or the tone of the film is unclear. Nevertheless, their roles never quite live up to the potential they could have had.

The film makes good use of 3D, making it even more fantastic in presentation, but it would be just as entertaining without it.  

“The Three Musketeers” should not be considered a bad film when taken in as its own entity. Unoriginal, yes. Insulting to the intelligence? At times if one dwells on it. But this is not a film one goes into to analyze (unless you’re critiquing it…case in point). The film is tailor made to be an entertaining crowd pleaser and it makes no bones about its intentions as a franchise in the making, as the ending all but screams “sequel”.  At moments, it does hint at the swashbuckling epics of the past so there may be hope for future installments if the box office justifies such. In any event, “The Three Musketeers” is a fun way to pass a couple of hours’ time. If you find yourself imagining yourself lunging about with a rapier in hand, then the film will have done its job.