Friday, September 21. 2012
With The Three Musketeers the normal film-maker seems to go for somewhat camp comedy alongside the swashbuckling, evil machinations of Richlieu (who is too often a comedy villain) and the carousing. It would be fair to suggest that this film ticks most of those boxes - fortunately it avoids the comedy villain Richlieu, although Orlando Bloom seems to enjoy hamming it up as Buckingham, an evil Englishman and perhaps he's picked up the comedy villain part a bit (although he's more competent than that stereotype would normally suggest) which lets Richlieu remain a powerful puppet-master type without becoming a caricature villain.
In a story that concentrates on the musketeers and Richlieu it perhaps isn't too much of a surprise that it would struggle to pass the Bechdel test, but perhaps it is more surprising that it ought to pass it with flying colours if it's meant as a test to ensure the women aren't token characters. There are two, at least, who are far more than token characters Milady De Winter and Constance. That Milady (Milla Jovovitch) is kick-ass character who manipulates those around her and gets a lot of good screen time shouldn't surprise anyone. That Constance, the Queen's maid that falls for D'Artagnan, has moments of being the damsel in distress but moments of actually choosing to risk life and limb courageously and that is in no way diminished by the way it's played is a nice touch for a role that really could have been just a token part - named but about the 15th most important character. (For the record, the queen and Constance chat about her diamonds, as well as chatting about the king so it probably just passes but only just.)
The queen is portrayed as a bit of an idiot. Without Constance, Milady and the king, she could be construed as an offensively insipid and useless token woman. However, although she is insipid the other two make it a function of her particular role rather than more general and it has to be said that the king is even worse. He is at best a naive, young, fool. At worst, he's a strong advert for a good revolution. His saving grace? Although he's manipulated by just about everyone and is completely clueless about everything, he loves his wife. In fact it would be fair to say if he wasn't besotted with her, the whole story line would fall apart. I'm sure it could have been hung together differently and worked still but it does give him a redeeming feature. The queen is equally in love with him and although she has little actual power, she's astute enough to know who her allies and enemies are (something the king could really do with learning). Thus far, unless you're interested in action movies that scrape a pass on the Bechdel test or you'll watch anything with one of the lead actors in it, there's nothing to make this stand out from the other film versions.
The thing about this film that makes it stand out from the crowd is the early (about 150 years too early) steampunk vibe. Steampunk needs more steam normally, and is more usually set in the Victorian era, but it's definitely there. Repeating crossbows with spring-out prods, battles in airships, invisible wires to slice and dice the unwary and more - make it not your average musketeer movie. There is, of course, a rationale for this - the secret inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci - but honestly the rationale doesn't matter, it's an excuse for some fun gadgets and set piece action scenes that add to the romp. If after the first couple of scenes (to the end of Bloom's first appearance say) you're not engaged you never will be. If, by then, you're relaxed and enjoying the romp I expect you'll enjoy it all.
There's enough to story to establish the heroes and villains and the key relationships early and enough plot from them to push the story along and make the action scenes have a meaning. Some of the action scenes push at my boundaries between camp, farce and silliness but overall they stay just the right side of those lines. This isn't a deep, meaningful take on the story, and it's possible Dumas is spinning in his grave, but there's lots of romping good fun, lots of well worked action scenes, heroic musketeers, Richlieu's minions and soldiers are shown up repeatedly and in that sense it's a perfectly satisfying take on the tale with a little twist. How on earth did we miss that at the cinema?
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