Friday, October 28, 2011

the three musketeers, redux, redux, redux ...

Every generation seems to have its own version of the timeless tale, first published, in serial form, in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers. I have a copy of the book in my to-read pile, but have yet to sample the original source. But after seeing so many film depictions I feel as if I know its characters and plots by heart:
D'Artagnan, son of a musketeer, leaves home for Paris, to join the King's royal guards, the Musketeers of the Guard. There he meets Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and learns their unforgettable motto, "all for one, one for all." He also meets the beautiful Constance, who enlists their help to thwart a plot by the evil cardinal Richelieu and treacherous Milady to create a scandal involving the Queen and a fabulous diamond necklace.
There have been movies made about the Musketeers since 1909. The most popular have been:

The Three Musketeers (1948) - Gene Kelly clearly had fun doing the amazingly choreographed duel scenes. It also starred Van Heflin as Athos, Gig Young as Porthos, Lana Turner as Milady, Vincent Price as Richelieu, and June Allyson as Constance.

Richard Lester, famous for the Beatles' Help! and A Hard Day's Night, directed the story stretched over two movies: The Three Musketeers (1973), and The Four Musketeers (1974). It starred Michael York as d'Artagnan, Faye Dunaway as Milady, Oliver Reed as Athos, Frank Finlay as Porthos, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, Raquel Welch as Constance, Christopher Lee as the Count De Rochefort, and Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu.

The Three Musketeers (1993 film) - The brat pack version starred Chris O'Donnell as d'Artagnan, Kiefer Sutherland as Athos, Oliver Platt as Porthos, Charlie Sheen as Aramis, Rebecca De Mornay as Milady and Tim Curry as Richelieu.

The Musketeer (2001) - A loose adaptation, with some different character names, starring Justin Chambers as d'Artagnan, Tim Roth as the Man in Black, Stephen Rea as Cardinal Richelieu, Mena Suvari as Francesca, and Catherine Deneuve as the Queen.

And not to forget,

Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009) - An animated version where Barbie and her friends become the Musketeers - all girls, and all for one.

The Three Musketeers got their most recent reboot this year with Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson) as this generation's d'Artagnan. The film has a steampunk sensibility, and stays close enough plot-wise to the original tale to still be called The Three Musketeers. But it has the most fun when it veers off into fantasy, with a flying machine subplot and Milady (Milla Jovovich) as a super assassin well-versed in Matrix-style kick-butt action and gravity-defying acrobatics.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich's husband and also the director of her Resident Evil action series. It made me think a bit of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, which might have been a far better film if Anderson had directed it.

The Three Musketeers is a fun movie, as effervescent as its action set-pieces. It opens in Venice, with the Musketeers and Milady teaming up to steal Leonardo da Vinci's plans for an airship. The movie never takes itself too seriously, mixing the improbable magnificent men and their flying machines with gorgeous locations (Bavaria) and flawless costumes (Pierre-Yves Gayraud) and jewels. Lerman is beyond callow, and never a true equal to the likes of Matthew Macfadyen as Athos, Ray Stevenson as Porthos, and Luke Evans as Aramis, but that is how it should be.

It was really nice to see Matthew Macfadyen in an action role. He is most familiar in quieter roles, such as Prior Philip in The Pillars of the Earth. Luke Evans was also very appealing. I felt like this was the first time I noticed him, but he has been in a number of big budget projects lately (Clash of the Titans, Robin Hood) with more in the offing (Immortals, The Hobbit).

Christoph Waltz tries to be the main bad guy as Richelieu but he is frankly outmatched by Orlando Bloom, who is preening and menacing and clearly having the time of his life playing the naughty Duke of Buckingham. Jovovich has a great rapport with MacFadyen and also seems very comfortable in her role of superhero bad girl. The movie is set up for an obvious sequel, so depending on box office receipts, we may be seeing this crew again, with probably an even more beefed-up role for Bloom. But they've already done airships, will it be Musketeers in space next time?
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