A week or two ago, Republibot 1.0 (My boss) reviewed "The Three Musketeers." (You can read it online here http://republibot.com/content/movie-review-three-musketeers-2011 ) Despite the fact that it wasn't at all a glowing review, I found some aspects of it fascinating (Airships. Milla. Etc. No, really, there's no "Etc" about it, it's just Milla and Airships, truth be told) so I decided to see the movie myself and review it *only* if something interesting struck me about it. We don't generally do multiple reviews of the same film, after all.
As it happens, I ended up with a different take on it than the boss. Not amazingly different, I just think there's a subtext here that explains the pervading awfulness.
This is an unabashedly stupid movie, but it just might be the *cleverest* stupid movie I’ve ever seen. The film it’s closest to in style, spirit and purpose is “Team America: World Police,” and it its own way, it’s even less restrained, though it’s also far less pointed. There’s some really funny stuff here, but you have to squint to find it. This is far more effort than most people are willing to put into a bad movie, however, and as I said: this is an unabashedly stupid one.
No, wait. Not “Unabashedly.” It is, in fact, *refreshingly, self-confidently* stupid. Just the same, the professional critics weren't kind.
Which is a shame, because in *not* being kind, the critics played right into the hands of the people who made this film. If you’re the stodgy “Why I never! They destroyed Dumas’ novel! Blah blah blah! Artistic veracity! Blah blah blah! Respect for literature! Blah blah blah! Michael York!” kind of person, then you are *EXACTLY* then this really is *exactly* the movie you should be seeing, because then you’d be in on the joke instead of the butt of it. Likewise, if you actually enjoy the movie at face value, you are *also* the butt of the same joke. That’s right: The same running gag victimizes fans and foes alike. That’s a tough trick to pull off, but they manage it.
As I said, this is one *clever* movie.
PLAY BY PLAY
You’re kidding, right? You want me to tell you the plot of “The Three Musketeers?” Come on, read a book why don’t’cha? Or just watch of the 45-or-so previous versions. The one with Michael York really is pretty good, and Raquel Welch is in there too, so: something for everyone.
Apart from a deliberately James Bondy opening sequence, the details of the story really are pretty close to the novel, which is, of course, part of the gag.
So here’s the deal: this movie is *entirely* deliberate, obvious parody of the Hollywood Summer Blockbuster Machine.
Take a story, any story, no matter how beloved, tart it up, hire a great cast but don’t let them do anything, boil characterization down to less-than-nothing, take a hot chick and let her kick some ass, throw in a couple overblown action set pieces, some exotic locations, a jiffy-pop resolution, and a tag for a sequel that will, in all likelihood, never get made. All the ingredients are here, right down to hiring a more or less personality-free carbon blob for the male lead (“He’s young, he’s hip, he’s now, he's instantly forgettable!”), stunt-casting people who are known for swordplay more than thespianism (Milla and Orlando), a bland Howard Shore-styled soundtrack (He’s like John Williams for boring people who don't like music!) and a script that revels in making every fifth line a deliberate, cringing cliché. I mean, it’s even got a completely incongruous pointless M.O.R. adult contemporary love ballad playing over the closing credits. How much more proof do you need?
Examples: “It’s what we do. It’s who we are.” “Afraid to face me in a fair fight?” “No, I just don’t fight fair.” “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” The dialog isn’t just bad, it’s deliberately bad. The whole movie is. It’s winking at you the whole time.
Performances are the same way: Milla is just the sexiest thing on two legs. You know the old joke about the gay dude who gets aroused by a super-hot chick hitting on him, and afterwards his friends ask him what was up with that? He says, “I’m gay, I’m not dead.” Well, Milla is hot enough to turn on dead guys. Seriously: Michael Jackson is stalking her, and he's both gay *AND* dead. But in this movie, she’s doing a sexless performance of a sexy person. She’s doing an impression of what someone *thinks* a ass-kicking hot-chick-in-not-a-lot-of-clothes would be like if the part were written by, say, an eunuch. Or Michael Jackson.
Logan Lerman, who’s generally a likeable actor, plays D’Artagnan as a virtual cinematic empty spot on the screen. He sleepwalks through the film – almost literally – there are a few scenes where he’s staggering around like he just woke up for no good reason. He plays the part like a 15 year old kid in a high school play attempting to channel Christian Slater, based entirely on the one half of “Kuffs” he managed to watch before falling asleep on Cinemax three years earlier.
Orlando Bloom is stunt-cast because of his ubiquity in these sword-heavy period fantasies, he’s even given a sword, seen practicing, and is pretty good, so you’re expecting a massive showdown, but, no, the end of the movie resolves just like the book, the screenwriters were deliberately yanking your chain.
In fact the *entire* movie is yanking your chain, which is part of the nesting doll of jokes involved here. In its odd way, it really is one of the more backhandedly faithful adaptations, but at the same time this isn’t about The Three Musketeers at all, and people who get a high-fallutin’ burr under their saddle about are – say it with me here – ’missing the point.’ What this movie is *REALLY* about is mocking Hollywood’s ability to turn anything, no matter how good, into a stupid actioner. If the guiding principle behind “Team America” – an that film really is the spiritual forbearer of this one – was “What would Jerry Bruckheimer do?” then the guiding principle of *this* film is Hollywood’s strip-mining of art as a whole.
Think I’m wrong? Entire sequences of this film are straight out of other films: the opening Bond sequence is like something out of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” if that movie had contained any good scenes worth stealing in the first place. There’s an aerial combat sequence that comes straight out of the Mutaran Nebula battle from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” The climactic swordfight is straight out of “The Empire Strikes Back,” and even includes not one but two scenes in which you think the hero is gonna’ lose a hand, and the *pointless* inclusion of some Art Deco aspects to Notre Dame Cathedral just to make the ’Wars comparisons more obvious. There are not one but two battle sequences that look like they come straight out of the Pirates of the Carribean movies, and the voice over narration (By Athos/Matthew MacFayden – who is great, by the way) is done in the deliberate style of The Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, MacFayden really does sound a lot like Christopher Lee.
The fact that there are so many Fantasy and SF riffs in this film are, themselves, commentaries about the Hollywood Machine, about how our movie dreams eat their venerable dreams, and remake them to our whims (if your charitable, or how we just digest ‘em and poop ‘em out if you’re not charitable). We treat everything like a big-budget B-movie, regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not. There is absolutely *NO* reason for there to be Seampunk (Baroquepunk?) airships in this film, and that is *exactly* why they’re there. If you understand that, you’ll like this movie. If you don’t just *instantly* understand that, then no amount of explanation on my part will make it make sense, so just stay home and feel superior about yourself while the people who made this film are laughing at you. It’s for the best.
Much could be written about Christopher Waltz’ frankly brilliant performance as Cardinal Richeleiu. I don’t have time, and I’m still digesting it, but it’s pretty clever. He takes a very complex villain from the book, and turns him into a mustache-twirling villain by deliberately playing him against type by understating everything about the character, and playing him as cold, calculating, clever, and passionless. Which, somehow – I don’t know how – manages to accentuate his mustache-twirliness and pushes him right over the line into Snidely Whiplash territory, without ever actually *doing* anything cliché. And he manages to do it all while channeling John Malkovich. It’s frankly pretty amazing.
The fact that this is not, in any way, shape, or form an American film, but an European one, just makes the gag all that much better. Or, one could take it as a commentary on how American Culture as a whole tends to dilute the older, ostensibly more sacrosanct European stuff. We are not respecters of persons, after all, and less so of institutions. This film is an European expression of how they feel *we* see them, and it’s kinda’ funny as hell as a result.
If you look for it, of course. Which, as I said, is not something most people are willing to do. As for myself, I found it amazingly refreshing to watch a B-movie that is not just content to be a B-movie, but seems to writhe around gleefully in the knowledge that it is one.
Oddly, the film is *Doggedly* anti-Catholic. The one church official we meet in the film is flat-out evil, the one religious person we meet in the film – Aramis – left the church because “A man of God and a man of the cloth are not the same thing.” The Church is implied to be strongly involved in secular politics, manipulating them for their own advantage.* The figurehead of the bad guy’s ship is a creepy skeleton dressed up as the Pope. At one point, people start dumping guns and stuff on Notre Dame, damaging it. At one point good guys’ ship gets impaled on a cathedral spire. Come on, folks, you don’t need to be Freud to figure that out.
This confused me. Eventually I realized, however, that this, too, is probably a jab at our perspectives. We are overwhelmingly a Protestant country. We are notorious for our distrust of Catholicism, so making the bad guys very Catholic makes the good guys seem moreso to us.
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?
Probably not, no. Fun flick just the same. Very clever in an aggressively stupid kind of way.
*- Debatable. Richelieu could just be a rogue Cardinal.