Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Premise: A retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ classic story. Set in seventeenth century France, a gung-ho young man joins with three disenfranchised Musketeers to prevent an outbreak of war between England and France.
What Works: The Three Musketeers is targeted at the audiences who enjoyed films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Mask of Zorro and Pirates of the Caribbean and this is at least a better film than most of the Pirates sequels. The Three Musketeers was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, a director whose output has been uneven throughout the years. His films are often video game inspired in source or in design (or both) and that holds true for The Three Musketeers. He generally does action well and most of the adventure of The Three Musketeers successfully mixes traditional sword fights with ridiculous choreography and flashy camera work. What Anderson has managed to do in The Three Musketeers is present an old story with a contemporary approach and that approach is fresh enough to make this a mostly enjoyable two hours. It is important to remember that many of the pirate films of the 1930s and 40s were not exactly great movie making but they did entertain cinema audiences. The Three Musketeers is the kind of film Errol Flynn would be making if he were working today.
What Doesn’t: Although undemanding viewers will probably enjoy The Three Musketeers as the Saturday matinee swashbuckling picture it is intended to be, there are some serious problems with it. Paul W.S. Anderson is accomplished at staging action scenes he does not do character or plot very well. The Three Musketeers and their apprentice are not discernible characters and the story does not put any of them in meaningful situations that affirm their heroism. A lot of The Three Musketeers is a small group of guys fighting and stabbing a larger groups of guys and although its shot in an exciting way it does not have anything going on beneath the surface. None of the performances are particularly notable, which is more likely the fault of the script than the actors, except for Orlando Bloom who is exceptionally terrible as the villainous Duke of Buckingham. (Being threatened by Orlando Bloom is like being threatened by a clerk at Abercrombie and Fitch and it elicits equivalent eye rolling and sardonic laughter.) Beyond the basic storytelling problems of The Three Musketeers there are more serious problem with the film. For some reason, a lot of sword and shield pictures are plagued by latent homophobia. This may be related to the masculine nature of these stories; sword films are often about a masculine hero who combats adversaries or obstructionists who possess feminine qualities. Examples in other films would include Xerxes in 300, Prince Edward in Braveheart, and Commodus in Gladiator. The Three Musketeers’ portrayal of King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) plays into this same trend and often exaggerates it. Although he is not a gay character, King Louis is certainly coded that way. He isn’t a villain but the film does cast him as effeminate and ascribes him stereotypical gay qualities and then makes it clear that those qualities disbar him from being a hero. This is not the main focus of the film but in this day and age The Three Musketeers’ should at least be criticized for lazy character writing if not outright homophobia.
Bottom Line: The 2011 version of The Three Musketeers will probably fade into obscurity among the many other forgotten adaptations of this story. It is fun in places and makes for an amusing distraction but it’s nothing more than that.
Episode: #361 (October 30, 2011)