Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Film Review - The Three Musketeers

tl;dr Silly, colourful fun with not a lick of depth.

So, Paul W.S. Anderson. Surely if ever there is a name that marks out a movie for critical success, it is his. Though his craft is obviously very much lacking in many areas, there's nonetheless a cathartic enjoyment to be extracted from his movies. I certainly would not object to a night in front of Mortal Kombat if there was nout else to do.

Like Mortal Kombat, the key to approaching The Three Musketeers lies in it's brainlessness. This is Hollywood cheese, The Cheddar Strikes Back, and there's something glorius about the combination of the film's earnestness and knowingness of many of the performances. There's no doubt that this movie is reading from the how-to handbook authored by The Pirates of Carribean, and if that pseudo-historical bombast is your thing, this movie delivers it with an extra helping of goofiness.

At this point, a kind of summary of the plot would be useful in grounding you in the movie, but really you can fill it in yourself. England and France (read: the world) are on the edge of war and the three musketeers, buoyed on by young country bumpkin-cum-fencing master d'Artagnan, are tasked with the job of stopping this fiendish plot. It's competently executed and kinda fun cliche after cliche, but leaves little impression. As a lead d'Artagnan almost brings the entire house of cards down on everyone's heads, but he'll have his moment in the spotlight later in this review.

Rather, I'd like to take a moment ruminating on the more enjoyable characters. The Three Muskateers plays host to a wide range of one-noters who manage to become engaging and memorable due to the cartoonish nature of their costume design, performance and writing. Rushford, Milady, Buckingham, the Three themselves, the Cardinal and King Louis are all entertaining company with which to spend your time. Even Planchet doesn't detract from the experience, despite the unfortunate fate of also being James Corden. Sure, the Three themselves could have used far more screen time, most noticeably Aramis played by Luke Evans. Yeah, it does look like Anderson is trying to sell Milla Jovovich (Milady) in a sex slave auction much of the time. Nonetheless, this is a strong set of characters for the type of film being presented to us.

The film is also littered with touches that are better than they probably should be. Anderson's direction, for example, is actually quite good at times. It's accompanied by a strong score. It looks very nice - fake, but enjoyably so. There's a neatness and fakeness that almost seems to enhance rather than detract from immersion, and it very much fits the pantomimic tone. It's bright and colourful and it very much does look rather good. The set pieces are silly, yet somehow managed to avoid the label of contrived. It's a big film, a crazy film and a fun film.

Short too, at least by today's standards. The running time of roughly one hundred minutes allows the film never to outstay it's welcome. Really, films like this have no business being any longer. Transformers, Pirates of the Carribean and other brainless action romps that feel it's a good idea to go beyond two hours really hurt themselves by doing so. On balance, the running time has to be one of the best things about The Three Musketeers, showing that the filmmakers know what it is that they are making.

But, alas, there must be negatives. The lack of depth probably does not count as a real criticism; why should a film like this have depth? That's not what it's for. No, the big, massive, absurdly huge, carbuncle that threatens to eat this movie whole manifests itself on-screen as our protagonist, d'Artagnan. I understand why they made him an American, and it's actually kinda ingenious. Contrasted against the city folk as unsophisticated, they work with the connotations we attach to each nation. Americans are known as brash and rude and gung-ho, whilst the English are more softly spoken and cultured and horribly repressed. Thus, when we have the American d'Artagnan coming in and being noisy around the English Musketeers we already understand the dynamic they possess based only on their accents.

Pity it comes across as another piece of American triumphalism, this idea that their aggressive and blunt minded culture that is demonstrated here comes in and teaches all of those English how to be the type of people that win. Like America! Not that I think Americans are fairly represented by those stereotypes either, them being stereotypes and such, but nonetheless this subtext is, probably accidentally, shoved into our face. It comes across as pandering and, as someone who comes from Britain, will automatically bias me against him and the film as a whole.

Beyond that, d'Artagnan is a unlikeable prick. Wise cracking and hyperbolically smug, we never get any sense he's earned any of this. He waltzes into the fray and upstages the greatest fighters in France and goes on to get the girl. Throughout the film he also delivers thematic speeches, imparting his wisdom to other characters. He doesn't learn anything or change, the world just grows to realise that he was just born awesome and they should feel privileged he chooses to share it. The world has been served to him on a plate, and there's nothing more grating and less engaging than someone who has to work for the good things, rather than just having them drop out of the sky and onto his head.

As emphatic as that rant may have been, this is still a movie worth watching if it takes your fancy. It's enjoyable and light-hearted, and the cheesiness is well handled. At times surprisingly good, and very colourful, I had a good time with the movie.

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