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The Three Musketeers (the 2011 adaptation) is a new take on an old tale. It doesn’t stick too closely to the original novel by Alexander Dumas in terms of it’s story, but the basic structure remains. There’s a special corps of soldiers known as the musketeers, D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) grows up hearing about them, and when he’s old enough sets out to join them.
But, in this version, our three major musketeers - Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) - are all washed up. Or, to paraphrase Aramis:'they exist to fight for great causes, and there are no great causes left.'
Enter Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) with an evil plot to throw England and France into war so that he can usurp power from France’s boy king Louis XIII (Freddie Fox). But the three musketeers and D'Artagnan find out about the cardinal’s fiendish ploy, and set out to stop it.
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The effects are well done, and they’re used sparingly. And the same can be said for most of the major characters.
In fact, all four of the major players in the movie's action - Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and a woman called "Milady" (Milla Jovovich) - are nicely complicated. In the case of the musketeers, we're given a brief explanation of their current state and so we can see how they each deal with it in their own way. But, in the case of Milady, we're only given half of a good character since we're not shown why she's as duplicitous as she is. Though perhaps this is because the writers were too busy making her the main source of fan service in the film.
Actually, it's quite easy to get the sense that a lot of thought went into the script and how plot and character are revealed through it. This is especially true of the movie's fine details (like D'Artagnan saying “in French?” when Aramis speaks to him in legalese). The costumes worn in Louis XIII’s court are also nicely done, though the less said about the rest of the extras' costumes and props the better.
However, little is skimped on the swords in the movie, and reflecting this are a number of well done sword fights.
Particularly in group fights, the fight choreography is nicely done. Whereas other movies have the baddies line up and throw themselves at the hero one by one, here group fights leave you with the sense that they're all trying to get in to fight the hero at the same time. The épée itself is essential to this effect, since, more often than not, it's swung in wide arcs to intimidate the group while a single one of them steps into the fray.
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However, with all of that praise for the movie's sword fights, they also deserve quite a bit of scorn. Or, rather, their absence does.
This movie simply does not have enough one-on-one sword fighting. Throughout the movie there are promises of duels, but most of these promises are tossed aside to advance the plot or to make way for a melee scene. The final fight between D'Artagnan and the head of Richelieu’s guard corps., Captain Rocheforte (Mads Mikkelson), is definitely a great one. Yet, the rivalry between these characters is played as little more than a formality. The dynamic between these characters would be more engaging if we were playing as D'Artagnan, but since we’re just watching it’s hard to be really engaged in that dynamic.
But the mishandling of this rivalry isn’t the only thing that can be pinned on the script writers.
The first hour of this movie is essentially nothing but set up for what the focus of the movie should be: D'Artagnan’s quest. If you watch the movie without this knowledge, then you risk feeling like you’ve lost an hour of your life.
Now, for the sake of analogy, this movie follows the exact same pattern as the Avengers does. It starts with some action (the three musketeers and their heist), moves on to a long section where plot and character are supposed to be developed (court intrigue, political posturing, and the like), and then finishes off with more action (a pirate fight on airships, capped with the only memorable one-on-one sword fight in the movie).
With the Avengers this pattern worked since there were a lot of characters and we’re actually shown how they interact and what they’re like through these interactions. With The Three Musketeers, the long middle section just drags. This should not be.
A 17th century movie about musketeers, a group of soldiers famous for their dashing derring-do and fencing ability, needs to have sword fights. Not big melees, but proper, good sword fights. The Three Musketeers would benefit tremendously from a duel or two in the middle section.
Maybe Louis XIII challenges his rival, Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), but Richelieu steps in and persuades the king to step down - in a scene where the two spar until Louis gets the Cardinal’s point.
Or maybe some smoldering difference amongst the musketeers causes two of them to duel, revealing a difficult issue from their past that they can’t keep from bubbling up after D'Artagnan's idealism opens old wounds.
Something was needed during the middle bit of this movie to keep the tension up - this movie needed a Loki. And no one delivered. Least of all Richelieu.
Now, it’s not really fair to single out specific part of a movie, a particular line or gesture, that completely sours it, but it can’t be helped here. Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak have both committed an atrocity in this movie's script and it must be made known.
The character that’s supposed to be the movie’s big, scheming, villain, the man who is played by Christoph Waltz - known for his role as the coolly intimidating Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds - utters a single word that practically ruins this movie. In a scene with Milady, at the 53 minute and 34 second mark, Richelieu offhandedly and completely casually, almost to the point of giving it a goofy delivery, says “yup.”
Maybe it's a sign of the power of an actor, but completely unraveling your character with a single word is not a good thing.
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The Three Musketeers, in its finished form, is a movie that seems to have been written with three purposes in mind:
- One: to entertain.
- Two: to start off a franchise (completely clear in one of the movie’s last scenes).
- Three: to take every existing action movie cliche and put them into a 17th century setting.
As of this writing, it accomplishes one of these purposes, and let’s just say that a dragging middle is never attractive in a movie, and there’s been no official word yet of any sequel.
A lot of care and thought obviously went into the script, but after that first draft it was poorly directed, produced, or edited, because all of the time that’s spent developing plot and character in the middle section takes us so far away from the action movie at the film’s start and end that the end result might as well be two movies spliced together.
So, Freya, fly high and leave this one where it lay. Hopefully it will do no more harm to a story that has been adapted and redone so many times that there are nearly as many adaptations (36) as Alexander Dumas had original works of fiction (39).
Next week things will be a little bit different.
On Monday, part two of the essay on the Western and Korean media coverage of the Bombardment of Yeonpyeong will be posted, but that will be it for the week's posts. Instead of regular updates, over the course of the week a few more pages will be added to this blog, and things in general will be tidied up.
Come 4 June, the Monday-Wednesday-Friday rhythm will return.