Midway through the 11 a.m. screening of The Three Musketeers 3D that I paid $18 to enjoy, I leaned over to my friend Mike and asked, "What is this movie about?" From the title, you'd think it would be obvious-- it's about the titular trio of swashbucklers lifted once again from Alexandre Dumas' novel to the screen, this time by that modern master of silliness and over-the-top action Paul W.S. Anderson. But in fact, it's about so much more than that, including a stolen necklace with the power to start war between France and Britain, a super-assassin played inevitably by Milla Jovovich, the tentative courtship between the King and Queen of France (who are already married, mind you), and giant pirate ships that float and do battle in the air above Notre Dame Cathedral.
Paul W.S. Anderson may be the only director on earth who thinks that many disparate plot elements should be in a single movie, but he's definitely not capable of making sense of them. The Three Musketeers suffers so much convoluted plot and leaps in logic that it's completely impossible to understand, a dumb movie that makes you feel dumb for not following. It's not our fault-- this is a movie in which characters find out secret information they have no way of knowing, execute complicated heists and robberies entirely offscreen, and in one key moment at the end, find out incriminating information about the central bad guy (Christoph Waltz, naturally) but continue to keep him in the fold anyway. The original Musketeers, as written by Dumas, were master swordsmen and paragons of French masculinity; after this idiotic re-interpretation, we all owe the good people of France an apology.
It all starts well enough, though not so well that you expect actual quality out of this thing (that was always pretty much out of reach). After a Game of Thrones-esque, toy-map introduction to European politics as they stood at the beginning of the 16th century, we meet the Musketeers in the middle of an effort to break into Leonardo da Vinci's secret Venetian vault. They're helped and then eventually betrayed by Milady (Jovovich), a noblewoman who takes off with the powerful British baddie played by Orlando Bloom, sporting a thin mustache that's just begging to be twirled. Out of work thanks to the equally evil Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz), the Musketeers return to Paris and private life-- Athos (Matthew MacFadyen) mourning his lost romance with Milady, and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) taking on various mundane jobs.
Meanwhile, country boy D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) appears to be humbly learning swordplay at the feet of his father, though the minute he's on the road to Paris, he transforms into an insufferable twerp who picks fights with the vicious Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) and then each of the Musketeers in turn. D'Artagnan is cocky, stupid, and not particularly talented compared to the other Musketeers he eventually teams up with, and yet, he is this movie's hero. No one making it seemed to think that was a problem.
After an endless amount of exposition we finally get to the point that the Musketeers must travel across the English Channel on a mission to recover the Queen's diamond necklace and (somehow) save France; the heist format could give Three Musketeers the structure and juice it needs, but instead, we get the floating pirate ships and more misplaced Milla Jovovich badassery. All this insanity means that Three Musketeers isn't all bad, in a catch-it-on-cable, marvel-at-the-madness kind of way; it's hard to thoroughly dismiss a movie in which the big clincher line is "You should have apologized to my horse!" But with otherwise charming actors, elaborate costumes, and clearly a lot of money to blow, it's a shame Anderson couldn't have teased out a coherent story or relatable characters to go along with it. The idea of three warriors with an "all for one, one for all" mentality has been simple and irresistible for centuries, and it's remarkable-- but not worth $18-- to watch a movie so thoroughly junk that up.