The Three Musketeers
If you've seen the trailer, you probably know that The Three Musketeers is a film largely uninterested in close adherence to its source text. The promotional campaign for the film has devoted itself largely to the massive airships and airborne battles that provide the movie with its defining set pieces and most distinctive imagery. There's really no precedent for these machinations in the work of Alexander Dumas, but even if you took out the flying machines and other chronologically incongruous technology, this is still a film that plays fast and loose with its own origins. Some of the basic plot elements are here. There is plenty of swashbuckling, and, of course, the "all for one and one for all" tagline.
And if that kind of thing bothers you, then by all means, stay as far away from The Three Musketeers as possible. You'll have a hard time viewing it as anything but a desecration of a sacred text. Personally, I don't much care about how faithful this work is or isn't to its source material, any more than I did with Guy Ritchie's riffing on Sherlock Holmes. In both cases, literary adaptation seems wholly beside the point. These movies take some familiar tropes and trappings, stylize them, and turn them into action movies. I'm perfectly content with that.
What I am a bothered by is how poorly executed this particular version is. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who also did the Resident Evil movies, this is a picture that's filled with ideas, so it's never boring and never feels lazy or phoned in. It's the best kind of bad movie: One that really seems to be trying for something, but misfires at every level, its plot points never interlocking and its characters never connecting. But it's fun to look at. And despite its vague whiff of Ritchie's Holmes movie and slo-mo action scenes recalling Wanted or The Matrix, it never feels like something we've seen before.
The film, like the book, takes place in the 17th century. England and France are at war, and, given that the film takes place almost entirely in France yet all its characters, including French royalty, speak the Queen's English, things don't seem to be going so well for the French. The nation's emblems of heroism, the titular musketeers, are a bunch of drunken brawlers who are now known less for their acts of nobility than for their local rabble-rousing. As one of them puts it, there are simply no good causes left for them to believe in.
A cocky young swashbuckler named d'Artagnan falls in with them, and very quickly a cause presents itself. They are to go to England, break into the Tower of London, and steal back a set of the Queen of France's jewelry. It has been placed there, you see, by Milady, a double agent who is working for the French Cardinal in an effort to usurp the king. In Dumas' book, it makes sense; it's presented here in a way that makes it all seem pretty preposterous, but this isn't really a movie you go to see for the plot anyway.
I don't mind the conception of this thing. I mind the way it plays out on screen. Much of that is because Anderson has never been particularly interested in finding a good script. Here's how bad the writing in this movie is: During what is supposed to be one of the most emotionally resonant scenes, a character opines that life is both "too long and too short" to go through it alone. Somewhere in the middle, I guess, and all this would be a bit more bearable. And young d'Artagnan's roguish wit is summarized when he tells a young lady that he is cocky "only on Tuesdays and in the presence of beautiful women." "You must think I'm beautiful," she speculates. But no, he tells her, it just happens to be Tuesday.