Paul W.S. Anderson’s version of The Three Musketeers opens with a bravura sequence that doesn’t seem like it belongs in The Three Musketeers. Athos, Aramis, Porthos and a female confederate storm a Venetian palace with an arsenal of devices that are considerably more advanced than the musket and sword of Alexandre Dumas’ familiar tale of 17th-century derring-do. There are drastic plot twists, epic betrayals and gigantic explosions—good lord, there’s even a DiVinci code to crack—all in a little less than 10 minutes.
And yet, this tricked-out prologue doesn’t spoil things; in between moments of mayhem, Anderson highlights the camaraderie and skill of the musketeers (before he leaves them betrayed and defeated). Soon enough, musketeer-wannabe D’Artagnan is on his way to Paris, where he meets cute (i.e., brawls) with the real thing; the familiar swordplay and enjoyable intrigue of the French court follow, enjoyably, as expected. There’s a clueless king, a virtuous queen, a scheming cardinal and a venal Brit nemesis; best of all, there are musketeers, behaving exactly as musketeers should.
That is, they behave like overgrown boys, not as adults.
There should be some kind of law requiring filmmakers to cast The Three Musketeers with Europeans. A trio of Brits are the musketeers: Matthew Macfadyen is a thoughtful, morose Athos, Luke Evans a laconic, occasionally droll Aramis, and Ray Stevenson a showboating Porthos. Austrian Christoph Waltz is the perfect Richelieu, and Dane Mads Mikkelsen is amusingly lethal as Richelieu’s henchman; Brits Freddie Fox and Juno Temple are the feckless king and stalwart queen of France. Less effective is California-born juvenile Logan Lerman as D’Artagnan; at times he’s as appropriate as a surfer in Shakespeare, but he muddles through on good-old American obnoxiousness.
Anderson’s use of 3D is often gorgeous: There’s one palatial room with endless rows of chandeliers hanging from an impossibly ornate ceiling, and another with a map of Europe on the floor, complete with toy soldiers as stand-ins for real armies. Cannons roar with flame, and cannonballs soar across charmingly rendered (by CGI) 18th-century landscapes. Less ostentatiously, Anderson uses 3D to get the most out of fights with sword and musket, as the heroes battle the cardinal’s men (and each other). And then there’s Milla Jovovich, employing her familiar martial-arts gymnastics to scale the sides of palaces or glide through corridors mined with explosives or lined with razor-sharp wire.
Jovovich isn’t the wide-eyed innocent or steely killer here; she’s Milady De Winter, that wonderful villain who’s been portrayed by actresses as different as Faye Dunaway and Lana Turner. Jovovich plays De Winter as a sensualist, taking equal, visible pleasure in matching wits with Waltz’ wily Richelieu, bedding Orlando Bloom’s smug Buckingham or outwitting a dozen of the best palace guard. It’s a delightful performance.
Some may not enjoy finding airships and flamethrowers mixed in with their Dumas, and there’s nothing to be done about that. Regardless, Anderson’s Musketeers is a real swashbuckler—and a heck of a lot of fun.