While the children are staring at the quivering bosoms and acting like spoiled brats, the grownups plot and betray each other. In the center of it all, our noble Cardinal attempts to take over a major world power at war with England, and assert himself as the rightful leader while acting as babysitter to the heaving corsets and blush of puberty that occupies the French king. The Three Musketeers, while borrowing the clothing, names and the basic premise of Dumas’ novel, owes nothing to the classic tale of Aramis, Porthos, Athos, and D’Artagnan but is wholly rooted in modern film conceits and dialogue.
Obviously, as a CWF review, the focus is not on the total film, but on our dear Mr. Waltz’s performance in the film. However, it needs to be said before proceeding that despite some flaws in the film, and despite some clear factual errors and liberties taken, The Three Musketeers does not deserve the hate it’s been receiving. The film is nowhere near what it’s being made out to be. It’s exciting, amusing, sexy, funny and very beautiful. It’s not a scholarly representation of Dumas, but then again, if you are going into a film – any film – expecting that, you are missing the point. The Three Musketeers is, first and foremost: FUN. In the very grand tradition of action and adventure films on par with Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s right up there. The problem, in my opinion, is by twigging the characters from a beloved novel, people expected it to be a very close retelling, not a re-write. By discarding the original novel and judging it on its’ merits of a re-imagining of the story, The Three Musketeers is a very enjoyable jaunt into beautiful clothes, beautiful scenery, a fine cast, an amusing storyline, and despite a few editing and directing choices that served to cheapen the production somewhat, it does not overly detract from the film.
When I last saw Mr. Waltz in 3D, as Chudnofsky in the Green Hornet, he was under-utilized and marginalized. In The Three Musketeers, Cardinal Richelieu is the lynchpin. He is the babysitter of the hormonal teenage royal court, and the schemer who seeks to put the Musketeers in their place. He is not playing Landa, and he is not playing Chudnofsky. He is somewhere in the ether: a powerful man, reading his opponents and figuring his next move, but yet tied and impotent as the teenage king has the final word, which is proving to be utterly frustrating. For comedic value, he plays it exceedingly understated. This seems to be a defining feature of Mr. Waltz’s recent roles, however: when people expect his character to be at his most sarcastic, he plays it cool. It is not typical, and therefore the audience notices the character’s reaction isn’t entirely what they were expecting. This is what makes a performance stick in the viewer’s mind, however, in a film like The Three Musketeers, the subtlety and nuances that Waltz imbues in Cardinal Richelieu are lost by putting him next to 22 year old Freddie Fox, as the King of France, who I can honestly say did not rise to the acting challenge (through inexperience?).
The good Cardinal is more at home next to Milla Jovovich’s Milady de Winter and Orlando Bloom’s Duke of Buckingham. Orlando is back in fine form in this film, and was very enjoyable playing something other than the romantic lead. It would have been scandalously enjoyable to have seen more sexual tension between the Cardinal and Milady, and while I feel Jovovich attempted to bring that to the dynamic, I feel it was Waltz’s decision to play Richelieu as a man of the cloth above such temptations as the Cardinal seemed oblivious to Milady’s batting eyes and tightly squeezed bosom. While sex wasn’t on the cards for the Cardinal, money and power were very obviously the vices to which he subscribed, and the most humorous moments were found when the Cardinal was shut down by the teenaged king’s obvious admiration for the derring-do of the Musketeers, and had to swallow his rage.
Fine performances all around by Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson. Logan Lerman, the fangirl’s favorite in the audience, also did a tidy job in the D’Artagnan role. It would have been great to have more emphasis on MacFadyen, Evans, Stevenson, Waltz, Jovovich, and Bloom, and to have skipped the love stories of Constance and D’Artagnan, and the teenage king and queen, as both seemed unnecessary and bolted on to the main storyline. There was already enough there to entertain without needing to throw in some cursory romances for the Twilight generation.
Waltz, in the only scene where he demonstrates his swordfighting prowess, impresses greatly, but unfortunately this particular scene is too short. He obviously is highly skilled and it would be wonderful to see him in more roles that call for hand to hand (or sword to sword) combat as he moves very well. Indeed, Waltz seems like a lion penned in to the confines of the palace, skulking around while everyone else gets a cool airship to play with (or at least some heaving bosoms to enjoy chasing.) An epic final battle with the Musketeers and the Cardinal would have been a wonderful addition, however I suspect that is being reserved for the proposed sequel which the film sets up for at the end.
I don’t agree with the directors’ choice of using an animated beginning sequence, nor freeze-frames to introduce the main characters, nor “one year later” titles to show time progression. The only current director who can get away with that and still be respectable is Tarantino, and that is simply because he *is* Tarantino. Paul W. S. Anderson is not Tarantino, but he borrows from Quentin, and from other pioneering films such as the Matrix trilogy, Entrapment, and other modern action classics. Speaking of Tarantino, Anderson manages to cast Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) in a role that is the polar opposite of his badass, and gives him a most inglourious demise. Perhaps it is that I have watched too much of Waltz’s back catalogue but I swear some of the “Paris” scenes were actually shot in the same place as König der letzten Tage and The Mysterious Stranger. (As The Three Musketeers was filmed in Germany, it is a possibility…) The 3D is beautiful, subtle and used to a lovely effect. The special effects are terrific, and for a fantasy action-adventure film, I believe it is being highly underrated.
Forget Dumas. Suspend your knowledge of French history. Allow for fictional license to present you with a ripping tale, and enjoy Waltz, Macfadyen, Evans, Bloom and Jovovich. Just because the critics turn their noses up at it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a fun and amusing film. Grab a large soda and popcorn, sit back and pop your glasses on, and enjoy.