It’s Musketeer Media Mondays! I love alliterative titles, I can’t help it. If there was a day of the week starting with L, that’s where my Friday Links would be, instead of actual Friday, where they belong.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you will have noticed that I started a web serial last week, Musketeer Space (first chapter available to read here) and also set up a Patreon page to collect financial patrons for the project. To my delight and surprise, quite a few of you signed up straight away, and I surpassed my first and then second milestone goal within a couple of days.
Here, then, is the first series of Unlocked Content made available to all tansyrr.com readers thanks to the generosity of the Musketeer Space patrons. For as long as the page is earning $50 a month or more, I will be posting a monthly review of some kind of media interpretation of The Three Musketeers or its sequels. Upcoming in future months include the BBC series starting Capaldieu (Peter Capaldi as Cardinal Richelieu), the two Michael York & Oliver Reed movies from the 1970’s (I have previously seen The Three Musketeers but not its sequel The Four Musketeers), and of course the gender-swapped work of genius (I’m not entirely being sarcastic here) that is Barbie and the Three Musketeers.
All recommendations for Musketeer media, including audio, comics, sequels, prequels, loosely-connected homages and preferred translations of the original text, are gratefully received. (especially if you want to extend borrowing privileges!) Yes, I do want to include Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds if I can locate it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine its existence.
The first Musketeer Media I chose to tackle is the 2011 movie “The Three Musketeers,” starring Orlando Bloom’s flounce and Milla Jovovich’s belated Black Widow audition tape. Some other people might have been there too. I didn’t really notice.
This is a wild cocktail of a movie, with one part ‘yes the scriptwriters actually read the book’ to two parts ‘wouldn’t THIS be awesome’ and another seven parts tequila. With a marshmallow, a firecracker and a catalogue of steampunk costumery on top.
I am exhausted just remembering this movie.
I also felt, particularly in the quite delicious banter-and-danger opening scenes, that it remained firm if not consistent in its thesis that if Alexandre Dumas were alive today, he’d be writing episodes of Hustle. (Or, if you are American: Leverage)
Every time I started to accept that this crazy rockstar cousin of a steampunk caper was only loosely based on the story I loved, they would throw me a curve ball by actually plating up something lovingly respectful of the novel.
Movie, you confuse me. I rather think I would have a better idea of what to think of you if you came with an original Queen soundtrack.
One example: the D’Artagnan Meets the Musketeer scene, which looks a lot easier to choreograph than it actually is (I say, having attempted about fifteen times to write my own version of it, to the point that it has become That Fucking Meeting Scene in my head).
This version was light-hearted, clever, and pretty damned authentic to the novel. D’Artagnan chases after Rochefort in revenge for their previous (book-authentic) encounter, and slams into first a drunk Athos, then a preening Porthos, and finally Aramis in the execution of his duty (horse parking tickets!) Each encounter tells us something about the Musketeers, and shows the protagonist for the hothead he is. All three of them end up inviting him to duel, and he has to take them on all at once, in an encounter that ends with them as friends. It was all very pleasing…
Unfortunately, I was still recovering from the disappointment that this wasn’t going to be, as the opening scenes teased me, a movie about how the Musketeers and Milady run around Paris as a high end team of con artists.
Strangely, I found myself enjoying the truly insane parts of this movie far more than the bits that were playing it straight. The most entertaining part about the hapless King is his obsession with fashion. It’s an easy narrative choice, to make him a young fool, and that’s the direction they took here. Ray Stevenson’s Porthos gets all the best lines, while the other Musketeers are sadly a bit mumbly and drippy. Constance is a disappointment – they fall into the Hollywood trap of making her a generic glamorous lady-in-waiting instead of a nuanced married lady wrapped up in her own adventure of political scandal. The Queen, however, is rather good, showing political cleverness beneath an innocent face. The Cardinal is woefully underplayed and dull.
Nine-year-old Raeli’s verdict: “The bald guy is probably my favourite Musketeer.” (She means Porthos)
Once airships and abseiling Milla Jovovich get involved, the movie definitely slips into crazy town, even as the original Queen’s Necklace conspiracy keeps popping up to pretend that the scriptwriters (let’s not pretend just one person wrote this movie) are genuinely interested in Musketeers and not just using it as an excuse to make a steampunk caper movie. Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) is hilarious and steals the movie quite effortlessly from the other villains, not least because he appears to be doing an Elvis impersonation with his hair.
I rather liked Jovovich’s Milady, and her balance between feminine wiles and dastardly vicious ability. Her costumes are AMAZING, and I don’t just mean from a fancy clothes point of view – her costumes are practically characters in their own right, and I enjoyed the way that the restriction of women’s clothes at this time was constantly addressed in her various scenes. I’d happily watch the movie that this Milady is obviously starring in, in her own head – a glamorous assassin, cat burglar and steampunk con artist with detachable skirts – but I think I’d like her better if she wasn’t supposed to intended to be Milady de Winter.
The main problem with the film, sadly, is that the plot doesn’t work without characters actively having telepathic powers. Time after time, events happen which make no sense unless the reason they are happening is because the characters were given advance access to the script. This is particularly the case in the big double airship set piece. I didn’t mind it when Athos and Milady were predicting each other’s movements based on their experience working together, and the way that was flipped, but Rochefort’s appearance with the second airship was so beyond ridiculous that my brain actually melted a little. I’m also not sure why the queen would have guessed the Cardinal’s entire plan based on a missing necklace, unless she had also read the bit of the script involving the letters.
I also totally noticed that some of the best lines of the script are stolen from The Princess Bride.The gender choices were interesting – I don’t want to spoil it too much, but let’s just say that several women who end up dead in the book get a more complicated fate, obviously intended to lead into a sequel of a successful movie franchise (oh, movie). Milady and Athos’ history is based on simple treachery after a workplace romance rather than the more complex story of the book. The movie constantly flirts with the possibility that Constance is going to be killed in a fridging manner, only to be slightly better than that.
Slightly. There’s still a whole lot of gratuitous damselling, which actually makes it more annoying that they gave her a few witty and adventuresome qualities early on, to pretend she’s not just there to give D’Artagnan someone to snog.
Rewatching the movie a couple of weeks later with our daughters, the main difference was that in the mean time we had been watching the BBC Musketeers show, which takes more narrative liberties in some ways but presents far more realistic, grounded versions of the characters. I now feel somewhat guilty for letting this movie be Raeli’s first Musketeer experience, because she loved it a little too unconditionally.
Raeli was, however, suitably scathing when Constance made her speech about how being a mere lady-in-waiting made her more disposable to the mission than D’Artagnan. As is only right and proper.
On the whole I enjoyed this a lot the first time, a lot less the second time, and feel a bit mean being too picky about its extra steampunk additions to the story given that I myself am embarking on a genre rewrite of this story. Then again, it holds itself back from being a full genre re-imagining, and perhaps if it had tumbled more completely through that clockwork door, it would work a lot better.
7 out of 10 swishy cloaks. A fun, chaotic and very attractive movie with not much beneath the surface. If the movie was “Milady in an Exciting Adventure with Airships” I probably would have given it at least 8.
This Musketeer Media Mondays post is brought to you thanks to the paid patrons of the blog. To sponsor Musketeer Space and its extended material for as little as $1 per month, visit my Patreon page.