Nathan Adams of Filmschoolrejects has started a cool new column which pits a film with undeserved love against an unfortunately ignored or ridiculed one. I'm making a similar blog, and by similar I mean the exact same. :)
It has been less than a year since Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers hit theaters, but no one remembers it. However, everyone remembers the original Pirates of the Caribbean. You know what that means: It’s time for some Overrated/Underpraised.
Both of these movies take a period known for swashbucklers and sword fighters and add in extra elements to make a light blockbuster. For the original Pirates movie--Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl--these elements were skeleton pirates and Johnny Depp. Judging from the box office receipts and the critical reviews (and the fact that the series has continued going when every subsequent movie was absolutely terrible), one would think this was a good idea. It sort of is. However, The Three Musketeers had some better ones.
Skeleton pirates are cool, so I won’t bash them. I will instead focus my energy on Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow (sorry: Captain Jack Sparrow). At first, he is entertaining, a gonzo character in a sea of mind-numbingly boring heroes and villains. His introduction of riding a sinking boat into a major English port and tipping his hat to the hanging corpses above a “Pirates be Warned” sign is funny. But if his antics don’t seem to get old on you, they probably should. Jack Sparrow is a pretty terrible human being. He makes his living by stealing. He spent years in a crew with some sadistic terrorists. He “borrows” Zoe Saldana’s boat without permission and then sinks it. He constantly drinks as if being drunk is something cool and attractive. He takes cursed gold pieces that turn him into a skeleton despite knowing it comes at the cost of his soul. He wears way too much eye shadow.
Why should we care--and root for--such a jerk? Should we really admire his drunken, selfish antics? Now I know that we are supposed to believe Jack Sparrow has a good heart, because in the beginning of the movie he reveals his identity as a pirate to save Keira Knightley. But does one selfless act really justify his entire past as a pirate and his entire future as a pirate?
Another problem with the movie is Knightley's character Elizabeth Swan. Keira Knightley has given some great performances--if you haven’t already, please see Last Night--but in the Pirates movies she does a really bad job. The character is a selfish, strident shrew who in addition to being really annoying is completely incapable of doing anything herself. She nearly drowned because her corset was too tight! Kinda sexist.
The Three Musketeers goes with a different strategy. They spice up the old story by making it a heist film with giant airship battles. It is anachronistic and silly, but so much fun. The Three Musketeers has been told dozens of times, but adding the extra element of zeppelins and Ocean’s Eleven-style cons breathes new life into it.
Every scene is just as funny and playful as in Pirates. A highlight is where the young monarchs infuriate the cardinal by making a joke out of an unfair trial over a brawl the musketeers were involved in.
Add onto this is the fact that there is a much clearer theme in Three Musketeers. Even though it takes place in a France torn by a power struggle between a child king and a ruthless cardinal, it ends up being a testament to patriotism and honor. The three musketeers (four if you count the protagonist, played by Logan Lerman) have their flaws, but in the end they are admirable, traditional heroes. Keep in mind, though: This message never interrupts the story’s fast, fun pace.
The Three Musketeers doesn’t just have a better moral, it could likely be a more enjoyable experience than watching Captain Jack & Friends.