In the world of filmmaking, public domain characters and stories offer endless opportunities for adaptation. These beloved heroes, such as Robin Hood, King Arthur, Zorro, Hercules, Tarzan, and Sherlock Holmes have inspired countless versions, some more successful than others.
In 2011, director Paul Anderson took on the legendary tale of The Three Musketeers, crafting a new and controversial retelling of the story.
Why Paul Anderson’s The Three Musketeers Is One of the Wildest Movies of the 2010s
The film follows the young French adventurer D’Artangan, played by Logan Lerman, as he joins forces with the three musketeers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans), to save France from the machinations of the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), the villainous Captain Rochefort (Mads Mikkelson), the seductive Milady (Milla Jovovich), and the haughty Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
Despite its star-studded cast and high-budget special effects, The Three Musketeers failed to impress both audiences and critics alike. The film’s over-the-top use of 3D, cliched moments, and eccentric performances left many scratching their heads. However, it’s worth revisiting this strange adaptation, which left an indelible mark on the public consciousness.
Anderson is known for creating action-packed epics with extensive use of CGI, slow-motion, and 3D effects. However, his approach to The Three Musketeers was unusual, adding modern elements to a historical story. The film revolves around flying ships that are set to be used in an upcoming war between England and France, brought to life with crude 3D effects. This approach didn’t work well for the film, as there were already countless great versions of the story, particularly in the 1940s and 1970s.
Other adaptations of public domain heroes such as The Green Knight, Sherlock Holmes, The Legend of Tarzan, and The Mask of Zorro succeeded because they respected the source material and its central themes. In comparison, Anderson’s version intended to turn all of the legendary characters from Dumas’ novel into absolute caricatures.
The film’s performances were also peculiar, with a star-studded cast that included veteran character actors and rising stars. While some actors, such as Bloom and Jovovich, had fun playing into the absurdity of it all, others like Macfadyen, who is an incredible actor, seemed uncomfortable delivering such corny dialogue. Waltz’s performance reached a Scooby-Doo level of silly, while Logan Lerman’s role in the Percy Jackson franchise left him in-between roles.
The Three Musketeers ended with a teaser that was intended to set up the story for a potential sequel. However, the dismissive box office performance of the film likely terminated all chances for a sequel. Nevertheless, the film may find its audience as a cult classic, appreciated for its passion and creativity.
In conclusion, public domain characters and stories offer endless opportunities for filmmakers, but it takes a delicate balance of respecting the source material while adding a fresh perspective. While The Three Musketeers failed to strike that balance, it’s still worth revisiting for its eccentricity and unique take on the story.
Public domain allows certain characters and stories to be adapted countless times, as the rights are free to use by any filmmaker or studio. Classic heroes such as Robin Hood, King Arthur, Zorro, Hercules, Tarzan, and Sherlock Holmes have inspired countless different adaptations, with some faring better with critics and audiences than others. In 2011, the controversial director Paul W.S. Anderson of the Resident Evil franchise crafted a new adaptation of The Three Musketeers that retold the legendary story from Alexander Dumas. The young French heartthrob D’Artangan (Logan Lerman) joins the titular trio of swordsman Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans) on their mission to save France from the plots of the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), the wicked swordsman Captain Rochefort (Mads Mikkelson), the seductress Milady (Milla Jovovich), and the haughty Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
The result was one of the craziest attempted blockbusters in recent memory. The Three Musketeers bombed at the box office and received nothing but hatred from critics, who savaged the film’s cliched moments, over-the-top use of 3D, and eccentric performances; it seems like the only person that liked it was Quentin Tarantino, who ranked it as one of his favorite films of 2011. It’s a film that’s worth remembering and even revisiting because it is so strange.
The Strange Changes to the Original Story
Anderson is not a filmmaker that can be described as subtle; as Monster Hunter and the Resident Evil franchise have proven, he loves making action-packed epics with a strong use of CGI, 3D, and slow-motion. Perhaps this approach works well for video game adaptations, but adding so many modern elements to a historical story simply feels unusual. The Three Musketeers is an adventure story with a good deal of action, but the additions that Anderson added are just bizarre. A majority of the plot revolves around flying ships that are set to be used in an upcoming war between England and France. These are brought to life in some of the crudest 3D effects of the era that attempted to capture the visuals that James Cameron mastered with Avatar.
The issue with The Three Musketeers is that there are already countless great versions of the story, particularly in the 1940s and 1970s. While sadly the 1993 version, which perfectly captured the right tone to fit within that decade of adventure movies, did not receive a sequel, it managed to blend in modern elements in a nuanced way. Similarly, the use of modern special effects and stylistic changes did not stop other adaptations of public domain heroes such as David Lowery’s The Green KnightGuy Ritchie’s Sherlock HolmesDavid Yates’ The Legend of Tarzanor Martin Campbell’s The Mask of Zorro because they still respected the source material and its central themes. Comparatively, it seems like Anderson intended to turn all of the legendary characters from Dumas’ novel into absolute caricatures. It’s actually quite enjoyable to see some of the baffling edits that he made.
The sexual references and double entendres that have always been an element of The Three Musketeers are expanded and given more attention than any previous adaptation of the story, as Anderson seemed to enjoy seeing how many lewd elements he could add into a PG-13 film. This is most evident during a sequence where Milady is breaking into the Royal Palace and slowly disrobes as she enters the castle. It’s an odd tone; this is a film that’s probably too mature for younger children, but turns into such a cartoon by the end with its frequently flamboyant 3D action. Perhaps Anderson was trying to court the same adolescent audience that had gone in great numbers to see his Resident Evil movies, but it seems unlikely that video game fans would be interested in a timeless literary classic.
The Bizarre Performances
The film is truly a “who’s who” of the movie stars of the era, as well as some veteran character actors. Even James Corden manages to pop up as Planchet, the servant that cleans up after the Musketeers. Poor Logan Lerman was already in between roles in the highly disappointing Percy Jackson franchise, although thankfully he would soon get the chance to prove himself with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fury, and Indignation. Macfadyen is an incredible actor who seems uncomfortable delivering such corny dialogue; Stevenson and Evans at least have a little bit of fun playing into the absurdity of it all.
After winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Inglorious BasterdsWaltz was apparently on a mission to see how many over-the-top, sniveling bad guys he could play. This may have worked out in his favor in Spectre and The Legend of Tarzanand to his credit, he seems to understand the tone that his version of the Cardinal should capture; his performance reaches a Scooby-Doo level of silly. Bloom seems to be having a blast chewing the scenery as the eccentric Buckingham, who created the original flying ships, but the most baffling performance has to be the one from Anderson’s wife. It’s Jovovich’s hilariously hyper-sexualized role as the seductress that broke Athos’ heart that makes The Three Musketeers a modern “so bad that it’s entertaining” classic.
The Sequel Tease
In a preview of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe would eventually do, The Three Musketeers ends with a teaser that was intended to set up the story for a potential sequel. Buckingham has now assembled a massive fleet of ships that he intends to use to wage war against France; it does seem hilarious that he oddly kept his entire fleet behind when it could have been used to pursue the Musketeers eventually.
The dismissive box office performance of The Three Musketeers likely terminated all chances for a sequel, but the film might find its audience to be considered a cult classic. Many modern blockbusters feel cynical and depressing because they are devoid of creativity, and to his credit, Anderson certainly had a lot of passion and a significant budget to pursue his ideas.