Is this movie worth seeing? Depends how you feel about airship battles.

The Three Musketeers has been given a new coat of paint. It’s sort of the same coat of paint that Disney gave the pirates mythos but has more in common with what Guy Ritchie did with (to?) Sherlock Holmes. Did you like Sherlock Holmes, gentle reader? I was pretty meh about it, but I liked aspects. It’s hard to fully knock such a solid bromance, after all. On the other hand, The Three Musketeers lacks the scope and writing of the Pirates movies and nine tenths of the charm of Sherlock due to the absence of anyone of Robert Downey Jr’s caliber putting in a Robert Downey Jr performance. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t charming actors in Musketeers because they are. And they are even having a lot of fun throughout the movie. Unfortunately, there are many pieces that don’t connect and the movie sort of deflates after the first half, driving itself to a completely unsatisfying ending with the self-assured mania of Orlando Bloom’s (fairly awesome) Duke Buckingham.

If you know your shit, you already have a pretty good idea about the story. Basically, shit is a bit crazy in 16th Cent France. King Louis is incompetent and under the power of Cardinal Richelieu who has his own private army, personal assassin, and big plans for war and mayhem in continental Europe. The musketeers, of which there are apparently much fewer in this movie, have been decommissioned after they are double-crossed by ally Milady de Winter (Milla Jovavich who is not terrible for a change but not all that great either) and the aforementioned Buckingham. Together, the two dastardly villains steal the plans for a big ol’ steampunk airship from one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s secret vaults. This is after a pretty wicked three-way infiltration by the musketeers (my that sounds dirty) which introduces us to the concept that this is the same kind of “what if” technological Renaissance as posited by other recent successful properties like Assassin’s Creed 2 or Sherlock. So yeah, we’re down for airships.

The costume design is wicked. They did a great job of making each character visually distinct at least.

The movie wastes no time letting us know who these three are. Athos (Mathew McFadyen, pretty bland overall) is the leader, the stern but sensitive rogue who goes a bit darkside after Milady loves him and leaves him. Porthos (Ray Stevenson, always fun) is the unscrupulous one and he has the Harrison Ford earring and artfully cropped hair to prove it. Aramis (Luke Evans) is the intellectual and the moral one, praying over the men he kills and so on. That is about as much character development as we ever get for these guys. Or for anyone, really. This movie makes thin characterization service of setpieces, action, and spectacle into a fucking science. Fortunately, it works about as often as it doesn’t due to the likable cast.

Unfortunately, only Buckingham really surprises. Orlando Bloom goes full scenery-chewing here and though he doesn’t get much to do beyond taunting the inept King Louis’ wardrobe (they are like two stereotypical queens sniping at each other and it is hilarious), he is more fun than anyone else. Christoph Waltz does diddly squat with what could have been awesome and really should have been had the script not utterly failed him. He isn’t menacing or entertaining. He is just there, leaving Bloom to carry the villainy in his totally gay way. And I don’t say this because Bloom is “gay” by default but because Buckingham is such a ridiculously flamboyant motherfucker.

I mean LOOK AT HIM. He’s delightful.

Fast forward a year and we meet cocky, skilled D’Artagnan whose parents send him off to Paris to be a musketeer. Logan Lerman is a young actor I actually like, mostly thanks to his performance in the underrated Gamer. Doing swashbuckling shit isn’t new to him after Percy Jackson (which will never get a sequel). Lerman is fine here, but a bit distracting due to his terrible wig and not-even-trying “accent”. It’s a minor thing, though, not having an accent in a movie like this. I mean, this is France and all the musketeers talk like Brits right down to their figures of speech. So yeah, nitpicking about that would be ridiculous.

D’Artagnan’s introduction is fine if a bit cheesy and true to the Alexandre Dumas novel this movie is (another) reimagining of. Then since this is Paul WS Anderson and his rotating crop of shitty hack writers, they shamelessly lift from A Fistful of Dollars to introduce Rochefort (Mads Mikkelson, the only consistently bored actor here). They never give these two any more reason to dislike each other than that Rochefort insulted D’Artagnan’s horse, prompting a duel in which Rochefort, rascal that he is, shoots the poor dumb kid RIGHT IN THE SHOULDER.

At least the hair doesn’t get in the way of the great fight choreography.

Up to about this point I just wasn’t taking this movie seriously. I hadn’t even known it was a Paul WS Anderson joint until the credits rolled. My bad. Still, I had paid my $15 and I was gonna get mine. Sure enough, the movie eventually delivered in the form of a pretty fucking great sword fight between the musketeers, D’Artagnan, and about forty goddamn soldiers. It’s a great, great action sequence. It’s also the pinnacle of the film. I waited for the next hour plus for it to get that good again. Sadly, it never really did. Unless of course the airship battle is more your thing. More power to you if so, airships and battles involving them ought to be in more movies. As a rule.  Which of course, The Three Musketeers follows and it’s actually pretty cool.

Right about the time the big swordfight was over and D’Artagnan was buddied up with the musketeers I was settling back into an overall state of “hey, not bad not bad”. Of course, this was not to last. By the third act, the movie just completely stops trying to do anything other than resolve it’s not-very-complex conflict. That they actually bother with the high degree of intrigue involved in the original story (the Cardinal plans to implicate Buckingham and Louis’ queen as adulterers with each other, which is impossible because Buckingham is into guys). Had they bothered to keep the book’s bleak endings for certain characters, it might have even gone somewhere notable. Unfortunately, the movie has no teeth and the only character that dies is Rochefort. The reason they keep everyone else alive, including Milady who they at least pretend to kill (yeah like anyone believed that), is because this is supposed to be a franchise starter. Which is really cute, I guess. I never expected that, though I should have, and I’m sad to report that The Three Musketeers is the worst offender in the sequel-baiting that I have ever seen. It’s not even clever and we’re never going to see (or care) about what happens when Buckingham brings his magical armada to France.

Freddie Fox plays Louis like he’s in his own separate movie and it works gangbusters somehow.

Ultimately The Three Musketeers will be an unmemorable adaptation. It is visually rich in a shallow sort of way and it does feature some great fights (well, one) and shit we really haven’t seen in a movie before (fucking airships, how do they work?). There are a few laughs along the way and some likable actors having fun. Plus, Logan Lerman continues to spit to indicate his grit and determination after taking a walloping. I hope he does this in every action role he does in perpetuity because it is manful stuff.