Have you ever watched a film that was obviously intended to be seen in 3D on your regular old 2D television? Maybe it's just a scene or two that stands out, but sooner or later you're bound to notice a shot in which the actor appears to be painted into the scenery or perhaps stands poised to jump out of your screen but ultimately does nothing of the sort. Something just seems to be... missing. It doesn't look terrible, but it's quite clear that something is out of place. It isn't horribly fake looking, but you are well aware that something in that scene is lacking. You know full well that you're missing out on something that was supposed to be there but just isn't.
That wasn't simply a description of director Paul W.S. Anderson's 2011 adaptation of Alexander Dumas' timeless classic The Three Musketeers, released in theaters in 3D format; it's also my sly attempt at using metaphor to describe a film that is both surprisingly entertaining and predictably lacking.
The film opens with a brief description of what was going on in France during the time period in which the story is set and some pretty impressive graphics that look like the Risk board game brought to life. These are two themes that pop up quite a bit throughout the remainder of the movie and right from the get-go, I was impressed by how quickly I became immersed in the film. In James Bond fashion, the story opens at the tail end of what the viewer must presume to be another in a long line of deadly missions undertaken by the trio of protagonists from which the film takes its name. Seventeenth century France meets modern-day special effects as we are introduced to Athos, Porthos, Aramis and Paul W.S. Anderson's apparent muse, the one and only Milla Jovovich as Milady.
Yup, just "Milady". She apparently does have a last name which is mentioned in the credits, but she's pretty much just referred to as "Milady" throughout the course of the film. Which isn't really all that weird, I guess; the Musketeers are referred to by their first names only. But I had always assumed that "Milady" was more of a title, like "ma'am" or maybe "madam". I guess it was actually her first name.
Anyway, I'm getting off track. Milady ends up turning on the Musketeers (another theme that runs throughout the film) when they raid Leonardo Da Vinci's secret vault for the plans to The War Machine, which basically amounts to a hot air balloon attached to a clipper ship. While I am no student of history, I do enjoy the History Channel and I am continually impressed with the genius of Mr. Leonardo Da Vinci. Perhaps even more impressive is the manner in which modern-day film, novel, and sequential art depict Da Vinci as a combination of Bruce Wayne, Steve Jobs, Steven Hawking, and Dr. Doom. Seriously, whenever you see a story about ye olden days and they need an explanation for a fantastical device, the explanation given is simply "Da Vinci created it!" and we all smile politely and accept it because a) no matter how fantastical the invention is, the History Channel has always made it seem fairly reasonable to assume that the man could've come up with plans for such a device and b) it's just really freakin' cool.
So I'm getting off track again. It turns out that Milady has been working in tandem with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and she gives him the plans. Fast forward a year and we find young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman), who appears to have stepped freshly off the set of a Disney program aimed at tweens, arriving in France seeking out the Musketeers. Of course, the Musketeers have become drunken losers by this point, having been forced to disband by Cardinal Richelieu (the always charismatic Christoph Waltz), the twisted and evil right hand man of the young and naïve king of France.
Now, the Cardinal manages to maintain three of the important themes of the film: his office floor is a giant map of the world and comes complete with huge Risk playing pieces for use in plotting world domination; he is in league with the treacherous Milady; and thirdly, his costumes are amazing. Seriously, all of the costumes - and in fact, every visual aspect of this movie - is absolutely stunning. But we'll get to that later. For now I'm just going to finish talking about the first act before I give you an incredibly brief summary of the rest of the movie (without spoiling anything, don't worry).
Anyway, D'Artagnan winds up sorta "getting the band back together" just in time for the Cardinal to hatch a scheme that will make it appear as though the Queen of France is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham, causing France to go to war with England, which would cause the people of France to demand a more experienced leader. This would, presumably, be the Cardinal. Hence the giant Risk board on the floor of his office. Jewels are stolen, webs of chicanery and deceit are woven, backs are stabbed (figuratively), and next thing you know, swashes are buckled as the Three Musketeers team up with the cocky young D'Artagnan to set things right.
So was the movie any good? That's up to you to decide, but at the end of the day I thought it was definitely worth watching, and I'm a bit surprised to find myself saying that. While I wouldn't say I hate them, I'm not particularly a fan of the Resident Evil films for which director Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich are renowned. They're serviceable films for a Sunday afternoon when nothing else is on or perhaps when you're high, but they're not necessarily what one would refer to as "good movies". Same with the recent Mummy franchise: I would use the words "fun" and "entertaining" to describe them, but "good"? Eh, not so much.
Now, you might be in the camp that says "Screw you, buddy. Those movies are awesome! You don't know what you're talking about!" And if so, then you are in for a treat with The Three Musketeers because I thought it blew those other movies out of the water. Will I go so far as to call it "good"? I don't know, but I'll damn sure call it entertaining. But before I get into a debate with myself (or you) about what constitutes a good film, let's get on with the review.
Remember what I was saying about the visuals earlier, before I got sidetracked talking about Risk? Yeah, they're pretty amazing. The costumes, the architecture and the colors all explode off the screen, even when it's apparent that certain portions were designed to be viewed with those fancy glasses and a higher ticket price. Even if you hated every other aspect of the movie, I suspect that the stunning brilliance of 1080p high definition presented on a 2.35:1 aspect ratio (ahh, the beauty of Blu-ray) would have you glued to the screen from beginning to end.
Combine those impressive visuals with non-stop action including swordfights on narrow rooftops, secret passageways, and those old weird French-looking guns with the ornate handles and you've got yourself a movie that your inner 12-year-old can't help buy enjoy. And while my outer 35-year-old cringed at the corny dialogue and abundant clichés that riddle the film, he also noticed the fact that the actors themselves seem to be having a really good time with it. Everyone, especially Orlando Bloom, Ray Stevenson, and Christoph Waltz, are delightfully hammy, chewing up scenes as though they were secretly hoping the casting director had a time machine that could transport them back to the set of the 1980 Flash Gordon film.
Oh, and did I mention Milla Jovovich doing crazy Matrix-style acrobatics whilst wearing an elaborate 17th century ball gown? No, I'm totally serious. That's actually in the movie. More than once, even!
So, at the end of the day, The Three Musketeers isn't going to win Best Picture, but I've made my arguments, I've made my comparisons and I've even made a few jokes: you know what you're getting into with a movie like this and if you like that sort of thing, then The Three Musketeers is definitely for you. And if you're sorta "meh" about that sort of thing, I think you'll find this movie to be the very best kind of "meh" that cinema has to offer.
Before I go, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the special features, which include audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes (also with commentary), and a handful of little behind-the-scenes featurettes. There's also this "Access: Three Musketeers" thing which allows the viewer to activate these scene specific features and interviews while you're watching the film. So if you're into that sort of thing, you'll find even more to like.