Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long2 you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Of the four versions of Alexander Duma’s classic adventure tale readily available (3 on DVD), Paul W. S.
Anderson’s will seem the most outlandish to lovers of the book or the earlier version. He and his scriptwriters have done to (or “for” admirers of the film contend) Dumas what the makers of the new Sherlock Holmes films have done to Conan Doyle, jazzed the story up with James Bond-like gadgetry, probably in an attempt to lure away young adults from their video games.
The film starts out in Venice where the Three Musketeers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) are working with Athos’ lover, Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), in an elaborate heist to steal the plans of Leonardo da Vinci’s airship. However, Milady double crosses them, making off with the plans and giving them to England’s Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). Angered by their failure, Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) disbands the group. Jump to a year later when D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), son of a musketeer, sets off to find the Three and become one of them. There are the familiar misunderstandings with the youth winding up in back to back duels with the three (whom he does not recognize as the friends of his father), and the arrival of over 40 of the Cardinal’s men bent upon arresting the four for violating the ban on public dueling. Only 40? Hardly favorable odds for the heroes of this fantasy.
I have no intention of describing the complex story further except to mention that the airships are indeed built, our heroes stealing the one made by the Duke of Buckingham and then becoming engaged in an aerial battle with one built by the Cardinal. The special effects are indeed spectacular, especially when the two cripple airships land atop the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This then is a version for those who judge movies by the amount of spectacular action. But so much is lost when this is the focus: in the earlier versions we feel the pathos of Athos at being betrayed by the woman whom he loves, and the scene in which they part forever is especially touching (my favorite is the 1948 version with Van Heflin as Athos and Lana Turner as Milady). There is none of this in the soulless new version, which ends with a set up for a sequel, one in which it appears that a sky full of airships will be more memorable than the three plus one Musketeers.
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