The Three Musketeers ✮✮

The Mouseketeer in the Iron Mask

by Glenn Lovell

If he were alive today, Alexandre Dumas would be basking in the sun in Monte Carlo, living high off the royalties for “The Three Musketeers,” that durable tale of court intrigue and derring-do in 17th Century France.  All told, dating to 1903, there have been more than 30 adaptations, including TV and animated spins. And that’s not counting D.W. Griffith’s in-name-only silent “The Musketeers of Pig Alley.”

Damning with faint praise, this week’s permutation ‒ directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and starring Logan Lerman as d’Artagnan and Christoph Waltz as Cardinal Richelieu ‒ is hardly the worst of the batch. Indeed, in spots this loose blend of Dumas and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” gadgetry sparks to life as the perfect Saturday matinee for 12-year-olds. Adults will want something more, like real suspense and expert swordsmanship, the kind of thing that distinguished Richard Lester’s earthier Musketeer sagas.

Duel in the Clouds: Da Vinci Airships

In an opening more befitting James Bond or a Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes installment, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) makes his entrance in retro underwater gear and, once re-teamed with Porthos (Ray Stevenson), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Milady (Milla Jovovich), breaks into a Venice vault. They’re after Da Vinci’s blueprints for a dirigible warship. The Musketeers are working for Louis XIII ((a foppish, funny Freddie Fox); Milady, unbeknown to paramour Athos, is doing the bidding of the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom, sporting a pompadour that would make Elvis envious).

Here, the narrative doubles back to Dumas, introducing d’Artagnan as a would-be Musketeer who runs afoul of Richelieu’s captain of the guards, Rochefort (the well-cast Mads Mikkelsen), then, one by one, the three Musketeers. In this more family oriented retelling, the honor of Queen Anne (Juno Temple) is upheld. Her missing diamonds, a gift to secret lover Buckingham in the book,  is now stolen by Milady in a plot to discredit the monarchy and allow Richelieu to seize power. But none of this plot-tinkering should bother the target audience, which, I think it’s safe to assume, won’t pull Dumas from their library for a careful page-to-screen analysis.

Anderson, per his M.O. (see “Mortal Kombat,” “Resident Evil”), wastes little time on such  niceties as characterization and plotting. He’s all about digital effects and action set pieces, including a fun battle of airborne galleons, which end up hanging from the spires of Notre Dame like soggy sausages. His players are introduced with freeze frames and name plates. If this doesn’t suffice, Athos is the cynical, heartbroken one; Aramis and Porthos are, respectively, the spiritual and loutish ones. Fourth Musketeer d’Artagnan, who falls for the queen’s lady-in-waiting (Gabriella Wilde), is supposed to be the heart of this adventure. As played by the stiff, baby-faced Lerman, he’s more like the Mouseketeer in the Iron Mask.

Jovovich’s conniving Milady can’t hold a candle to Faye Dunaway’s in “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge,” but, stripped to corset and stockings, she does pull off some spectacular “Matrix”-like entrances and exits.

Besides the battle of the airships, I enjoyed the animated toy-soldier transitions ‒ they’re not only stylish, they work as the perfect metaphor for a perfectly fine children’s adventure. In the not-quite-cliffhanger ending, Richelieu and Buckingham are seen plotting their comebacks. Wishful thinking, fellows. I may be wrong, but this doesn’t feel like the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS ✮✮ With Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; scripted by Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies from Dumas novel. 110 min. PG-13 (for swordfight violence, battle action)

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