22 October 2011

The Three Musketeers (2011)

The Three Musketeers are assholes. To me, it's a core component of the characters. They do whatever they want, not giving one iota of a fuck, causing colossal shitstorms wherever they go. And they get away with it. Why? Because they're badasses, of course, but also because they fight for good causes and, underneath it all, they're lovable rogues. The trick to portraying them on screen is to make them charming assholes the audience can root for and enjoy.

This new film version does not make them charming. It tells us they're charming, and that they're good guys, and they fight for France and Love, and etc. etc., but it doesn't show us. What it shows us are musketeers who wantonly murder dozens of people in breezy heist sequences. Hoo-ray?

The opening scene takes place in Venice. A guard stands by a canal. He hears something in the water. A 17th century version of a frogman appears and shoots the guard with some kind of device thing.* More guards appear, and the frogman's device thing shoots them too. "Oh, this is the bad guy," I thought. But then the frogman takes off his mask and turns out to be a musketeer. "Oh, he must be killing bad guys then." Nope, he's on a heist to steal plans for an airship. He's just murdering hapless guards. He's quickly joined by the other musketeers, and Milla Jovovich, and they continue on their mission, slaughtering dozens.

Later on, the musketeers get into a brawl with the Cardinal's men, who are basically the cops of the time. The musketeers don't murder all of them, just most of them. The surrounding crowd cheers and claps. The musketeers are brought to the king for punishment, but the king favors them instead. "You rogueish rapscallions," he doesn't say, though he may as well. The movie wants us to laugh and slap our knees. "Those musketeers! They've gotten away with it again!" I sat there thinking about the children of all those dead cops.

One of the problems is scale. I was reminded of a community college production I saw years ago, which did a very smart thing. In the early fights, when the musketeers were just foolin', the people they stabbed would only be wounded. Those actors would groan, clutch themselves, hobble offstage, and reappear later. It was only when shit got real that the musketeers began killing people. Thus indicating that the stakes, as they were, had been raised. Here, the musketeers kill and kill and kill. Every fight is the most important fight, and involves them against dozens, and yet, at the same time, it ain't no thang for them, because they're the baddest badasses in all of badassery. There's no weight. None of the villains have any actual power, and the musketeers have all of it.

Another example: The heist at the beginning of the film is to get Da Vinci's plans for an airship. Later on, this airship makes an appearance. "Ah, this will be an element in later action sequences," thinks anyone who has seen the commercials, or any movie, ever. And it is. But the musketeers don't fight it. They steal it, and use it for another heist sequence, where they murder more hapless guards. (Many of whom burn to death; one is thrown out of a tower, on fire, screaming. How valiant are the musketeers!) It occurred to me that, perhaps, a better way to handle it would be to make the musketeers, I don't know, the underdogs, and have them fight the airship, and to have it be difficult. Like Indiana Jones versus the Flying Wing, or Luke Skywalker versus Jabba's Sail Barge (well, not really difficult for Luke, but it was for Lando). Instead, the musketeers breeze through every challenge, never encountering any obstacles, never really having any trouble with anything.

In another film, they would be the bad guys.

The film could have gotten away with all this had the action sequences been better directed, the screenplay written with more wit, and etc. etc. But those are phoned in, done in a very average, nothing-new way. There are a couple bright spots, and most of the actors are game; one can sense them raring up, ready to chew the hell out of the scenery, and finding nothing there. The film is serviceable for those looking to put their brains on hold and watch beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in front of CGI explosions for an hour and a half. It's art as product. The movie as machine-pressed hamburger.

*A related rant: Why do all these "historical" action films put modern weaponry and technology into the heroes' hands? Here, we get musketeers with airships, scuba diving gear, napalm, machine-gun cannons, bolt shooters, and rappel lines. There's even a scene where razor wire replaces laser beams in yet another heist sequence. (I kind of liked that one, actually, except the film then allows the character to simply just jump through them with ease. WHY FUCKING BOTHER?) Oftentimes, it feels like the only reason they set these films in the past is because the (previously established, highly marketable) properties necessitate it.

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