In the interest of full disclosure, let me say right up front here that I don’t believe it is possible to surpass the monumental artistic achievement that is the 1973 Richard Lester adaptation of this story. Having said that, I went into this movie with relatively high hopes because... well...: sword fighting, Milla, and Air Ships.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
There were only really two sword fights and the first one – the brawl that brings D’Artagnan together with the Musketeers – was choppy and over edited so that you really couldn’t follow a clean line of action. The second (oh, by the way, spoilers, especially if you have never seen a single iteration of this story) – the semi-climatic fight between D’Artagnan and Rochefort – was choreographed and shot specifically for 3d, which I don’t like just on principle.
And Milla, our new Milady de Winter (for some reason her husband and director, Paul W. S. Anderson, just can’t let her age gracefully – in Resident Evil 3 and 4, she had enough make-up on to completely negate the need for the Cybil Sheppard Filter, though it didn’t. I don’t know if her face moved at all, and whether that was due to the make-up, the soft filters or BoTox) was as bland as her emotionless face.
The airships, however, were awesome. There is nothing quite as cool as big ships floating overhead attached to big balloons and shooting cannons at each other.
The movie follows the plot of the book and the previous movies in broad strokes. D’Artagnan, son of poor farmers but with a swordsman heritage, leaves home for the big city where he soon meets up with the fabled musketeers. They engage in some battles and political espionage, he falls in love with Constance, an attendant to the Queen and then rushes to England to help preserve her majesty’s honor. All with the help of the Musketeers.
The biggest problem from which the movie suffers is a total lack of charm or energy from the cast – they are all dour and unengaged with the proceedings. Except for Freddie Fox as King Louis who is the only bright and fun performance in the whole thing. You would hope the talented Cristoph Waltz as Cardinal Richilieu could bring some interest to his role, but he is just marking time as well.
One plus that the cast brings, though, is that all the roles were all cast fairly age appropriate - especially D'Artagnan, King Louis and the Queen, who all looked like they were in their mid-teens.
The whole thing is paced as an all out sprint, not letting anything get in its way as it barrels towards the foregone conclusion of an ending.
Visually it is magnificent – the production design is beautiful and the costuming (which plays a small running joke as King Louis desperately tries to be as fashionable as the Duke of Buckingham, played blandly by Orlando Bloom) is wonderful. But the direction is second rate Michael Bay – hyper-kinetic with poorly delivered line readings, and stiff dialogue on top of uninterested performances.
Wait to see it play endlessly on Spike TV by Christmas for the awesome Air Ships, but if you want to see some fun swordplay, charm, romance, action and joy in telling a story grab the Richard Lester version with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Charlton Heston and have a feast.