It's apparently written into the Hollywood code somewhere that there must be a new adaptation of The Three Musketeers roughly every 20 years. There was a classic version released in 1973 starring Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Oliver Reed, and Michael York, and that one was so good it still holds up today. There was a seriously crappy one in 1993 starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and Chris O'Donnell, and that one was so bad that even a soft-rock theme performed by a VH1 triumvirate of Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting couldn't save it. So, in keeping with the theme of trilogies, we now have a third big-budget movie version of the Alexandre Dumas tale being released in 2011, starring Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, and Logan Lerman (none of whom you have probably heard of). How does this one hold up?
The simple answer: good but not great; solid but not amazing; cool but not mind-blowing; better than '93 but not as good as '73. The premise of the story is the same as the book and the previous movies: A young, talented swordsman named D'Artagnan (Lerman) has just left his parents' farm in the 17th century French countryside for Paris, where he hopes to become a musketeer like his father. But he arrives to find not only that the elite branch of the military has been disbanded by Cardinal Richelieu -- the church higher-up who's been controlling the nation's boy king and conspiring in lots of nefarious ways -- but that the three most-badass musketeers of the bunch, Athos (Macfadyen), Porthos (Stevenson), and Aramis (Evans), are all hanging out in the exact section of town where he gets himself into trouble, and all four find themselves squaring off against Richelieu's personal guards. Of course, their four-against-forty match ends up showcasing D'Artagnan's immense fighting skills, and he becomes an honorary member of the trio. D'Artagnan's timing is great, because it's soon discovered that the infamous expert spy and seductress Milady de Winter (an absolutely and in-all-ways awesome performance by double-threat action star/sex bomb Milla Jovovich) is plotting with the Cardinal to overthrow the monarchy; their plan involves Jovovich repelling down the wall of Versailles in her undies, stealing a diamond necklace, and using it to frame the Queen for infidelity with the English Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). There's also a Hindenberg-esque airship somewhere in there, which is supposed to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Spoiler alert: There's no airship in the book. But the craziness of swashbuckling scenes that take place 400 feet in the air actually works. While it might not be wise to admit to this level of familiarity with the 1993 movie, one of that film's main problems was that it felt flat. That was probably the result of multiple failings, from the script to the acting, but it's definitely a shortcoming that this film doesn't have. The 2011 version jumps at any opportunity to make scenes feel stylized or surreal. Even the set decoration strives for a popping sense of opulence, with lush color and rich detail. And say what you will about director Paul W.S. Anderson, but he definitely knows how to shoot an action sequence, photographing mayhem in eye-catching high contrast and with satisfying clarity.
The Brit-centric cast handle their sword-wielding badassery with immense gravitas and are never caught lolling for the camera or posing daintily with their hats. This is no doubt a result of casting non-heartthrobs as the three main leads, though this is slightly offset by Logan Lerman, who is just about as button-nosed and tweenish as you'll probably be able to tolerate. However, needless to say, Christoph Waltz makes for one awesomely treacherous villain, and the less-than-brilliant script still gives everyone plenty to work with. For the newest generation of adventure fans, it could be a lot worse.