Of the 20-plus adaptations of Alexandre Dumas' 1844 best-seller, Paul W.S. Anderson's "The Three Musketeers" may be the biggest budgeted of the bunch but is mainly notable for being the first 3-D version of the tale. A fantastical "Pirates of the Caribbean" vibe is somewhat incongruously grafted on to what has always been a decidedly earthbound tale of sword-play and derring-do in early 18th-century Europe, and while the strength of this long-established cultural brand remains potent, it's unlikely to translate into a money-spinning franchise along Pirate lines.
This German-French-British co-production was shot in Germany and topped the box office there for two weeks in early September. A softish opening of $3.4 million — on a notably sunny weekend — was followed by a smaller-than-average decline of 13%, indicating positive word-of-mouth for this undemanding if noisy romp aimed principally at a young male audience. This first period picture from Paul W.S. Anderson, a director who's established a following in the futuristic and fantasy genres with various "Resident Evil" forays, features an American, Logan Lerman, in the lead, with a European supporting cast. It looks a safer prospect at international box offices than in North America, where it may prove the latest example of 3-D fatigue when it opens Oct. 21 from Summit Entertainment.
Scriptwriters Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies at times adhere quite closely to Dumas's original narrative, at least in the first half, as peasant lad D'Artagnan (Lerman) travels to Paris with the aim of becoming a Musketeer, one of the elite guard sworn to protect the throne of France, currently occupied by the boyish, vapid Louis (Freddie Fox). In double-quick time he bumps into and antagonizes the three most famous musketeers, the swaggeringly sardonic Athos (Matthew McFadyen), the no-nonsense Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and the guileful Aramis (Luke Evans).
After some initial, very cursory frictions, he joins forces with them just as they are being plunged into pan-European intrigues involving dastardly Englishman, Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and King Louis's right-hand man, the devious and ambitious Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). A wild-card element is provided by Milady DeWinter (Milla Jovovich), a former colleague of the musketeers — and a former lover of Athos — who is now plotting with their enemies for her own gain.
Lively channel-hopping shenanigans duly ensue, the perfidious Brits gaining an initial technological advantage thanks to flying boats constructed, in one of the film's few neat historical asides, from stolen Leonardo Da Vinci plans. These unlikely vessels are underwhelming affairs, lacking the loopy grandeur of the similar conveyance devised three decades ago by Terry Gilliam for "Time Bandits," and raising unflattering memories of the "Pirates" pictures. Those films made a romantic lead out of Bloom, who now cuts a dashing but unmenacing figure as one of the picture's multiple villains alongside Waltz, Jovovich and an eye patch-sporting Mads Mikkelsenas the leader of Richelieu's guards.
Jovovich gets a couple of elaborate action sequences, which nod back to her Resident Evil adventures. This time her death-defying, slow-motion gymnastics take place in Pierre-Yves Gayraud's elaborate, scene-stealing period costumes. Otherwise few in the promising cast register much of an impact.
Lerman makes for a distinctly bland lead. D'Artagnan's romance with damsel-in-distress Constance (Gabriella Wilde) is all too lukewarm, as the hero sounds and acts more like a 21st-century American teen than a swordsman of bygone Europe. He's the uninspiring center of a picture largely content to recycle established action-movie stunts while bringing very little new to the table including an unimaginative deployment of 3-D effects.
Rather like Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," Anderson's picture ends just as its story should really be kicking into life — there's an unmistakable and frustrating "end of part one" mood to the final sequence, though making this ending so open and sequel-ready may turn out to be over-optimistic.