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How do you get the main heroine of the Resident Evil series Alice (Milla Jovovich) into three major world centers in different corners of the Earth without conjuring up crazy plot twists? You just put her into test simulations of these cities built in an Umbrella Corporation army base ‚" to figure out how the T-Virus works in real environment, with real zombies and people, and of course a real Alice. Not that the plot of Resident Evil: Retribution isn‚(TM)t convoluted ‚" with so many twists and turns I could barely breathe. But it‚(TM)s a good convoluted here. Besides, this film has lots of zombies of all kinds and is bound to make zombie fans everywhere happy. Get your machetes ready, guys!
Resident Evil: Retribution, expertly directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, starts with the coolest opening sequence where the attack of the ship with sexy hopeful survivors in white from the end of Resident Evil: Afterlife is shot in reverse, with bullets flying back into guns and people waking up back to life in a nice way (in a zombie movie it is most of the time bad, but not here).
After that Alice somewhat unnecessarily retells what the fans know already about the Hive and how the Red Queen (a corporate computer impersonated by a mad little girl) is trying to kill humanity, with tireless fighters trying to stop her. Then we see the destruction of the ship in chronological order ‚" with all the cool CGI carnage that it entails.
Cut to a bed in a quiet suburbia: a housewife with Alice‚(TM)s face is staring blank into space with her hair a light red and a pretty wedding ring on her finger. It‚(TM)s a sunny morning and her hubby greets her with a warm ‚~Rise and shine‚(TM) which is only followed by the horror of a zombie apocalypse ‚" something you might have already seen in Resident Evil: Retribution‚(TM)s trailer. I cannot be impartial about these scenes as I love the genre but I have to admit that the horror the characters are merged into immediately, without respite, and that with a little daughter Becky (Aryana Engineer) around her neck, and her hubby ‚" dead, or rather undead, within minutes ‚" is palpable right in the gut. It has never felt as real as that. The zombies here are so fast and strong it‚(TM)s terrifying; the only thing that saves the plucky housewife is that American houses are made of paper and she is able to break through walls and escape, her cute kid in tow. They meet a helpful driver (Michelle Rodrigez) and try to run, but it all ends, and not in a good way.
Cut back to Alice lying on the floor, hair dark and short again, a rectangle white piece of cloth covering her bare body. She is tortured by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) but is suddenly given a chance to escape when there is a breach of security for two minutes. She runs from the laser grid again and lands on the streets of Tokyo, where we get a flashback to the beginning of Resident Evil: Afterlife that is so good I won‚(TM)t tell you what happens. After Alice kills all the zombies (in all sorts of inventive ways) she meets her savior Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) who announces that help is on the way (and Boris Kodjoe is the best part) ‚" they are apparently in Kamchatka and won‚(TM)t manage the ice by themselves.
The girls (Alice and Ada) and the resistance group that is here to protect them have to fight off zombies and mutants left and right as they go through a variety of fake cities (Moscow, NYC, Tokyo, quiet suburbia) where test simulations of the apocalypses are launched by the Red Queen. Alice gets to know what motherly instinct is all about, which is a really nice touch and adds dimension to her character. There is an Alien moment, an amazing scene in fake Tokyo and a beautiful last shot of Washington D.C. under brutal attack. That‚(TM)s how much I am willing to spill. I really want you to see Resident Evil: Retribution.
Verdict: I personally love the idea of taking this ugly virus and turning into something superhuman. I can make a few correlations with my personal life, and even if most viewers won‚(TM)t see it as a metaphor of survival and evolution, I do: horror that you dread the most may be turned around into power that takes you to the next level. Also Resident Evil: Retribution has to be seen for inventive scenes of post-apocalyptic cities, numerous fast and furious zombies, amazing stunts and choreography, and Milla Jovovich, of course, who looks better than ever.
Article first published as Movie Review: Prometheus (2012) on Blogcritics.
Some of the most revolutionary artists have that child-like quality of looking at everything as if for the first time (and showing it to the viewer via the art of cinema, literature, theatre, and so on).
Ridley Scott is one of these rare artists. The sense of wonderment with which he opens his peepers every time he looks at something is contagious. He did it in Alien and Blade Runner, creating dystopian worlds of utter devastation and infecting his audiences with lasting horror that haunts and transfixes at the same time. He did it in Thelma & Louise, as an Englishman, staring at the American landscape, wide-eyed, jaw-dropped ‚" as if no one stared at these plains and hills before, and sharing the experience with those who‚(TM)ve accepted the invitation.
And yes, he is doing it again in Prometheus, despite what you may have heard from whiny critics, when he shows the viewers their home ‚" planet Earth ‚" as they‚(TM)ve never seen it before. But like a true artist who is always enchanted with wondrous beginnings, he is also drawn to inglorious ends...
Prometheus opens with show-stopping shots of the Earth in its early days (filmed at the base of the active volcano in Iceland), and there is a terrifying creature to observe, but not the one many would expect in a movie that began as Alien‚(TM)s prequel but ended up being its own master.
Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover an ancient painting in Scotland which is one of a series of similar paintings from different cultures and historical periods (H.R. Giger designed the murals). All the etchings point to the same planet, as if inviting humans to visit, so both Elizabeth who is a cross-wearing believer and Charlie who is a steadfast scientist, are filled with wonder and hope. The all-powerful corporation Weyland Industries sends the two, together with a crew of scientists and the friendly android David (Michael Fassbender ‚" enchanting), headed by the steely Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, not an ounce of fat in her body) to a planet similar to Earth on a ship called Prometheus. They arrive in 2093 to make history, but as power struggles start, the hidden agendas of the seemingly obvious characters begin to unfold ‚" with disastrous consequences for most of the crew.
The eager viewers will find out what David the android is doing when the rest of the crew are sleeping. Michael Fassbender is brilliant at showing the methodological movements of his double agent character ‚" whether he is learning ancient languages and bleaching his roots. It‚(TM)s hard not to like David. He looks at human beings with a sense of quiet disgust ‚" at their will to explore, conquer, kill the living things, bring dead things to life, theorize, analyze, categorize. When Elizabeth asks David what he is going to do when no one programs him, he answers he will be free, with a dry smile. That dude knows that freedom ain‚(TM)t all that; but he never forgets he is just a slave in the eye of the humans; there is a twinkle in his eye that suggests that one day he will retaliate.
Charlize Therone is perfect as Meredith, the embodiment of corporate claustrophobia, of the pervasive eye of the Big Boss. Noomi Rapace‚(TM)s Elizabeth turns out to be the perfect Last Girl Standing, a warrior and fighter, whose transformation is a real pleasure to watch. I disagree that the rest of the cast are disposable; it‚(TM)s the people they play that are disposable ‚" suffice the plucky captain played by a handsome Idris Elba. Most critics have dismissed the crew members as perfunctory, threadbare characters, dead meat for the aliens. But have they thought that such a portrayal of scientists can be a deliberate critique? Who are these people if not mere boys poking at a half-dead snail with a stick on a rainy day, pretending it‚(TM)s the most important business in the world? After Thelma & Louise Ridley Scott was criticized for making a man-bashing film. Prometheus is a dig at a bigger part of the population. It‚(TM)s a dig at all of us, poking our noses into shit we should avoid at all costs. But is that what makes us human? Different from the animal kingdom? Different from the creators? Are we the only animal willing to ditch the survival instinct just to answer a couple of questions?
Some critics have complained about the lack of foreboding settings, drawn out silences, of that all-encompassing mist that made Alien so frightening. I think fog was necessary in Alien because ‚~it was a C-movie done in an A-way‚(TM), as Ridley Scott puts it in this interview. Now, as there is no need for this crutch, and he can focus on every detail of his dreamed out world, his imagination truly takes flight, backed up by the generous budget and the technology that is there to match his daydreams. Low-budget sensations become such at times because the limited means of production make directors push the limits and be innovative (think 28 Days Later); but, common, it‚(TM)s 2012 and it‚(TM)s Sir Ridley Scott, no one should expect him to film a bunch of foggy clouds just cuz he did so in 1979. And what do we have to represent sci fi these days anyway: Transformers? Battleship? Or maybe Men In Black 3? (Please, don‚(TM)t even get me started on Avatar).
The special effects are something else in Prometheus and they don‚(TM)t exist for their own sake either (there is a magical sequence where David holds a holographic image of planet Earth in his hands). Ridley Scott doesn‚(TM)t waste a minute of time to cater to 3D conventions or impress anyone just because he can. Of course, not everyone is going to like that ‚" the ‚~modern viewer‚(TM) is a spoilt animal, bred on constant action and exploitation. For me, the visuals were breathtaking, and apart from other blockbusters, the images were backed up by thoughts. The whole process of asking questions is what makes us human; it‚(TM)s finding the answers to those questions that turns us into something else. Do we have a right to the secrets of the universe? Should our creators expect docility or is rebellion irreversible? Is curiosity nothing but a seed of destruction planted in us on purpose? And once we create something we weren‚(TM)t supposed to ‚" will we be rewarded by our creators or will we be squashed like cockroaches by their iron boot?
REALITY VS FICTION
30 years ago, when Alien was made, technological discoveries common today would be unthought-of. Today they are part of the background (curiously, the trailer of Resident Evil: Retribution looks into this topic). Why did people laugh at a talking head of David when androids are already reality (and if you are wondering about their life-like physical features, just check out the Real Doll website), and not a very amusing one. We are creating stuff all the time. Do we stop in the process, to think about the consequences? Some of us do. But something tells me we are too eager to see our own end to make it out alive. That‚(TM)s gonna be one hell of a movie.
Prometheus is a magnificent return of sci fi to the paramount questions humanity has to ask itself once in a while. Dumb audiences will be expecting answers, and will be disappointed. A smart viewer will be left with a bitter aftertaste, and leave unnerved, uncomfortable, haunted. Hopefully, a sequel will get made. After all, I am just as curious to poke that snail to death as anyone else.
The adaptation of the adaptation of the adaptation is what we get for a summer blockbuster in a world where culture was proclaimed exhausted a while ago. PlanŤte des singes was a sci fi dystopia written by Pierre Boulle in 1963 which was adapted into a 1968 classic Planet of the Apes directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, which subsequently spawned a totality of seven films, a TV series and a few comic books.
The story is now revisited by Rupert Wyatt in a 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of the film that started it all. Many directors are interested in the question of what defines humanity: George Romero dived into the subject headfirst with the still nauseating Night Of The Living Dead and an array of money-makers masking greed behind bogus postapocalyptic agenda (Carriers or Resident Evil: Afterlife) have tapped into that uncomfortable territory as well. All in good fun, of course.
The premise of curing a disease while releasing apocalyptic danger into the air is not new. Here the cure for Alzheimer's Disease which Charles (John Lithgow) suffers from is in the making. Will Rodman (James Franco), Charles' son and a promising scientist, discovers a virus that helps the condition but proves threatening to humanity because thousands of apes become 'infected' with intelligence spread by the first guinea ape Caesar (motion-capture performed by Andy Serkis). If only this virus could be disseminated in the schools and universities around the world, I am thinking, yours truly could sleep more peacefully. Alas, the side effects of being smart are not just having no date for the prom (can anyone believe the winner of ANTM's Cycle 13 Nicole Fox was never asked?) but it's also the possibility of the total annihilation of humanity. As Will and his pretty girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto) grow more and more attached to the chimp, the monkey begins to display a few signs of teenage angst and wants to know who he is. There are moments of true joy in the film when Will's father Charles gets a temporary respite from the disease enjoying the clarity of his days with the people he has missed in the daze of Alzheimer's. There is poetry in nature shots and childhood events of Caesar's life. This is a film not afraid to show emotion.
The trailer eloquently portrays what to expect from the movie, but it's not one of those teasers where the best parts of the film are stuffed together and there is nothing to look forward to during the main course. The best of the film is the film itself. As part of the Planet Of The Apes franchise it stands its own ground and has a proud and distinct voice.
The movie starts with the cruelty of humans and ends with the cruelly of apes. Caesar, the plucky chimp warrior, is neither the first nor the other, and the inner conflict tears him apart. Besides the well choreographed actions sequences, the viewer may look forward to a colourful home-jungle sequence mirroring the bliss of Caesar's childhood, a utopian sequoia forest full of sounds and surprises as well as the occasional pop of colour and elegance here and there (the leaves falling off the trees like snowflakes from the violent movement of the branches).
Some of the chimp education sequences reminded me of Romero's terrifying Day Of The Dead and his most 'civilized' zombie Bub. Who indeed are humans and what makes them different from the rest of the animal kingdom? The gradual built up of threats from different directions (the apes are getting angrier while the people are getting sicker) creates credible tension and there is a touch of old school horror to the film which is a great thing in an era where too many thrills depend on stupid outbursts of action as opposed to skilful levelling of suspense (but there will be a few unintentional laughs too).
Below the surface of the perfect summer blockbuster one can unearth uncomfortable topics such as the omnipotent maternal instinct (one angry mommy is having a really bad day when her baby seems to be in peril), the identity crises adopted children are inevitably faced with, the problem of isolation of the Other, the futility of prison sentences and the dangerous castigation of 'evil', the psychology behind any dictatorship and so on. But that's if one squints really hard.
There are references to the original 1968 film. There are the clichťs: the greedy corporation sharks, the sadists that happen to work with animals day in day out, the cool guy next door and his flawless girl. The pacing is good, with every subplot getting satisfactory resolutions at a rhythm that keeps things interesting without rushing it or piling plot twists on top of each other. The ending is a bit of a downer. Maybe the real problem is that after the first ending, there is actually the real ending, but by that time half of the audience is out the door (the poor ticket lady trying to scream over the heads of early leavers). You have been warned.
Do not leave viruses lying around in the fridge. Who knows what can happen. For some pure fun, thrills and a few frowns, go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in theatres August 5.
28 days later (2003) is not your run-of-the-mill horror flick. Nor is it sci-fi/zombie apocalypse as we know it. The movie plays genre as a dizzying balance of pseudo-realistic horror, classic drama, post-apocalyptic dystopia, a tragic romance, for good measure. Its pace and mood are breathtakingly meandering: in the midst of rushing, rasping and running for your life (with blood pumping in your veins) the movie has time to stop and reflect on the beauty of naked and mute London and the ugliness of a human being, stripped of normality and hope. Dopy tranquillity, nightmarish speed (a blur of eyes, feet and frothy mouths), total defamiliraziation and oh-so-familiar dread are mixed into a whirlwind of shuddery cinematic pleasures. You will check your door locks, you will draw the curtains. You will have the main theme (In the House a Heartbeat) and the rest of the paranoid John Murphy soundtrack pump in your temples for days later. Because this movie goes unpleasant places and reminds us of the ultimate isolation, the beast inside and other horrors writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle touched upon in The Beach (2000) but failed to deliver convincingly. In 28 Days Later the tandem works magic and the result is an instant horror classic.
Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from his lucky coma to find he had missed one hell of an event - the end of the world, or Britain, to be exact. After a group of eco-terrorists break into a Cambridge lab and free the apes infected with man-made Rage virus society collapses under the unforeseen pressures of a zombie pandemic. Jim wanders around the empty echoing London, picking up cans of soda and the pieces of the horror tale he missed together - an evacuation special of The Evening Standard, 'missing persons' flyers, photos of lost loved ones, and later, a suicide note from his own parents. The first infected he meets is a starving and emaciated but still-on-both-two bloody-eyed reverend - a vision so terrifying it fills you with dead-end horror to the brim. From there the chase is on. Only a band of survivors, the indomitable Selena (Naomie Harris) and dorky Mark (Noah Huntley) secure Jim's life and all-too-knowingly fill him in on the events of the last twenty eight days.
The movie goes many places, in terms of genre, pace, character development, setting and mood, places you'd never expect horror to go. 28 Days Later wrecks your nerves and messes with your head. It's all of those things: sombrely slow and adrenaline druggy, trashy cheap and picture-perfect cool, funky fresh and predictably derivative, drawing on zombie and postapocaliptic film classics. The intertextual halo around the film takes nothing away from its edgy freshness. This is simultaneously a comeback and an update of the zombie genre. The zombies here are strangely new on many levels, the DV cam completely disorienting (a bad download? a pirate copy? a joke?) and, there is very little literal gore for a horror movie, but plenty of the blood-clotting fear of classic 20th century dystopian tales. No wonder Danny Boyle referred to this movie as a drama in a sci-fi horror setting. This isn't for gore addicts exactly; it's for anyone in love with strange and disturbing cinema.
The genius of Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography is salient in the already classic London scenes without which this wouldn't be the masterpiece it is. The sequence from the time Jim flaps his sunshine-lit eyelashes in the hospital room to his entrance into the darkness of the holy place is pure perfection. The DV knocks you out and leaves you with sand in your eyes, and images you fail to scratch away, something out of a recurring nightmare. It's disorienting and paradoxical: sometimes film grain, sometimes pixelated mosaic, sometimes ocean ripple, sometimes Gaussian blur. If anything Mr. Mantle is filming light here, light shining through things, light reflected onto things, light reflecting things. This is an impressionist moving painting that has both Monet's blurred softness and Seurat's pointillist exactness. The edge of one object becomes the beginning of another as if light were fluid. In that interim space light particles stumble into each other, twirl, swim, dance, become one. All things will melt into each other, the fluids of the infected with the fluids of the healthy, and with a little struggle, something new will be born. In 28 Days Later the boundaries to objects material as we know them are gone, and the claustrophobia this engenders is simply terrifying.
The prevailing colours in this tour de force sequence are yellow (the rising sun and its multiple reflections onto objects), green (Jim's robe and vegetation) and brown (Jims hair, the overturned furniture, the buildings and monuments). In the shot from the hospital window onto the parking of abandoned ambulances that failed to save anyone, you see the leaves on trees moving with the wind, and the pixels making up these leaves moving within them. London Bridge, yellow in the rising sun, is reflected in the quietly simmering waters. Between the orange Houses of Parliament and the immobile London Eye the light swims pink and pretty. Big Ben is grey, Jim's robe robustly green. The Lion is peachy soft. The double-decker is a welcome splash of red - more of that color to be unwelcomingly embraced later.
The only soundtrack to the dizzying picture that prompts you to wonder if you are losing sight altogether, are Jim's idiotic helloes and later the droning, schizophrenic John Murphy's score, crescendoing when the alarm on the deserted car makes you jump out of your skin - every time you watch the goddamn scene. The girl on the billboard bleach-smiles at the non-existent humanity, the Statue of Liberty has no one left to set free. Jim, as the (supposedly) last human being is ticking off the boxes: science (hospital) - useless, Westminster (government) - useless, the Wheel (entertainment) - useless, the Lion (art) - useless. Transport (double-decker), communication (hanging down receivers), commerce (bleached billboard smiles), democracy (Statue of Liberty), mass media (The Evening Standard) and memory (Shaftsebury Memorial) are all rendered meaningless in the face of this ultimate Armageddon. But Jim has one last sanctuary to flee to, one last chance, fragile and dim, to take. And with a sack of clinking pop soda in his hand he enters the church (Danny Boyle aspired to become a priest in his youth). After that moment Mr. Mante's dizzy, simmering light, literally and metaphorically, goes out of the movie.
And out of the darkness the zombies arrive. These are strange in many ways. Boyle's monsters will never compare to lifeless, apathetic and pitiable creatures of Romero's franchise. Boyle's ghouls are superhumanly fast, strong, agile and leapy, murderous in a wink of an eye. Their frantic, slashing movements are a cross between spastic semian recklessness and blood-drooling butchery of a hyena on an inductive diet. They don't eat and savour the flesh, meticulous at every chew and rip, they puke, bite, run and puke some more, all in a matter of seconds. They seem to evaporate into clouds of bloody bodily liquids as fast as they appear out of nowhere, and you feel like wiping the smears away from the totally innocent screen. A mere flash, you barely get a glimpse of them, yet they fill the viewer with a terror that is to linger long after the titles have rolled.
The nausea here is stronger than in Romero classics or the gorier Day's own sequel 28 Weeks Later. Boyle doesn't need zombies tearing flesh off human bone to get his message across. He doesn't poke at your guts with inordinate portions of spectacular and unnecessary gore. He works at your brain like a Chinese water torture, drop by drop unwillingly bringing you to conclusions fit to drive you insane:
Civilization is a dreamed up construct, artificial, non-existent. All order evaporates in the face of disaster. The government is a joke. Science - a spastic spaniel playing with its own tail. Religion wants to eat you. This is the end.
Romero's movies were critical of a certain very precise sin of humanity: Dawn was anti-consumerism, Night - anti-racist, Day - anti-militarist, Land - anti-capitalist and Diary - anti-sensationalist. Boyle is simply anti-everything. No meta-narrative comes out unbitten and virus-free, that's why it's one of the darkest of zombie horror observations so far. Besides the totally inappropriate finale, Boyle gives humans no hope. And unlike Romero, he is unable to squeeze any humour out of the inglorious, ugly occasion. Rage just happens. No purpose, no meaning, no justification. Humans kill humans. Not for food but for kicks. The virus is just there. It doesn't make sense. And it shouldn't. Because the world is absurd, existence meaningless and chaos is the only order we deserve.
The movie has a very distinct anti-war ring to it (picked up later in Weeks but substituting the generic anti-military with the trite anti-American ring to it). The vision of the dead outside the car window is clearly the (subconscious) memory of the Holocaust. How was that different? Wasn't that the textbook definition of meaningless rage? Boyle sees the military as a bunch of sex-crazed half-wits obsessed with looking serious, putting on their hero-out-of-a-myth faces and guided by a crackpot who is all-man, all-hero and all-saviour.
It's also important to remember that the so-called zombies here aren't zombies at all. They are people infected with a virus, whose meaningless rage was begotten from human behaviour at its extreme. And humans here are scary all right. The moment when Selena is offering Hanna a drug to sedate her in the face of a sexual onslaught is queasy with unspeakable terror. And somehow the movie almost has a feminist aftertaste. Strictly speaking, this has little to do with the zombie genre, except for the homage it pays to Romero's Dawn and Night. This is an intelligent drama speaking the language of zombie metaphor.
What rage does to humans is no pretty site. In the beginning Jim is a big-eyed apish figure, fragile, anorexic, stooping, echoing stupid and futile helloes into the empty air, clinging to religion, family, community. He bets on the church, insists on checking with his family, he encourages Selena to take Hannah and Frank on. The light goes off, however, and the transformation begins. He is forced to murder a child. Frank is killed, the girls are threatened with sexual slavery and Jim himself nearly escapes execution. By the end of the movie you have muscles of steel, inhuman speed, vicious cunning, split-second decision-making and murderous survival instinct. Jim's eyes are bloody, his mouth frothy, sweat rolls down his torso and drool slides down his chin - rage, of a different kind, has gotten to him as well. Cyllian Murphey is brilliant here, as well as the beautiful and heartbreaking Naomi Harris. Brendan Gleeson is a joy as always, a faint ray of light in the midst of stifling dystopian hopelessness that this movie offers. For the existence of people like Frank, whom Gleeson eloquently portrays, humanity could almost be forgiven.
The bright red and green ending is a Hollywood burp, I'm afraid. It's nice, it's comforting, and it offers a sense of false respite after the nauseating terror preceding it. But as you turn off the lights and close your eyes, everything will come back, the grainy images, the frothy mouths, the screeching sounds.
The world will die of a virus. But when it happens, there won't be quietly buzzing planes in the blue-blue sky.
Article first published as Movie Review: The Three Musketeers (2011): Not Too Proud for Predation on Blogcritics.
After more than 20 adaptations of the famous swashbuckling novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas here comes another one, a postmodern rereading by Paul W. S. Anderson, steampunk-styled and slowmotion-shot, boasting German-French-British co-production, and the biggest budget ever. Oh yes, it is the first one in 3D.
Fidelity in adaptation disputes seem inane in 2011, especially in this case, where the plot doesn't divert too dramatically from the original (with the exception of the flying battleships built according to Leonardo Da Vinci plans). The story is well known: Young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) is headed for Paris to become a Musketeer and manages to meet the entire cast of the main characters on the same fateful day: the nefarious one-eyed Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) and scintillating Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich, gorgeous), the leader of the once legendary trio Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), the soulful former priest Aramis (Luke Evans) and muscular Porthos (Ray Stevenson), all of whom D'Artagnan impresses with his brazen cockiness and rustic charm. While young King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), bipolar, bad at chess and bored with big politics, is preoccupied with the latest fashions in coiffure and dress and a very cute crush on his fresh-faced wife Queen Anne (Juno Temple), Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) is the one playing with the country's fate (metaphorically and otherwise - there are adorable 'toy' ships on the floor of his 'office'). The three somewhat embittered Musketeers joined by the ideallistic D'Artagnan have to battle Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom, strangely styled) to save France and the honour of the Queen. Thank God there is Barbie-faced Constance (Gabriella Wilde) for a peachy kiss before the credits roll.
Alex Litvak (Predators) and Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995) are the writers here and it is no wonder that The Three Musketeers are a steampunk comic one minute and candy-coloured costume adventure the next. Anderson plays with intertextuality here and there (some critics call it stealing), alluding to Pirates of the Caribbean (and hoping against hope for a franchise: games, toys, keep dreaming), The Princess Bride and The Empire Strikes Back, Pulp Fiction, as well as referencing Bond, Indiana Jones and Batman movies, comic strip and cartoon clichťs more generically. Two supporting actors - Christopher Waltz as Cardinal Richelieu and Til Schweiger as Cagliostr - will be instant reminders, to some viewers at least, of another movie that took liberty with famous historical events, the delightful Inglourious Basterds, which doesn't elevate The Three Musketeers's B-movie status but rather encourages unwelcome comparisons.
Anderson may not be as good as Tarantino at rewriting history but he definitely loves beauty, be it the falling-apart face of a raging zombie, or the breathtaking set pieces of fake 17th century France (the movie was shot in Germany). But Anderson loves beauty even if it doesn't signify anything: pure form without substance. In cinematic terms, he is willing to shoot a scene for its mere eye candy value, regardless of how nonsensical or unnecessary it is in terms of plot/characterization/message (elements the director is not really bothered about either). He likes to shoot the amazing stuntwork in slow motion - in case the viewer misses something. He loves long, menacing corridors stuffed with traps - blades, wires, bullets, explosives; corridors in zombie-ridden underworld virus-stripped of people or corridors in an immaculate 17th century palace leading to the Da Vinci's vault - who really cares? Anderson loves throwing lethal weapons at his beautiful wife (and the viewer, thanks to 3D) so she has to twist and bend her body in ways that would demand a very unpleasant session at the chiropractor for most normal folk. Anderson is not going to deny himself that pleasure in The Three Musketeers 2011, even if Dumas turns in his grave (like many of the Minsk viewers commented on leaving the theater) and even if the said vault with its invaluable contents lies in ruins (gorgeous ruins).
There are plenty of beautiful shots here: the scuba diver, mask of fluid black gold, emerging from the canals of Venice; the improbable sky battle between the two enemy legions; Milady balancing in her corset and tights on top of a sculpture, in turn perched atop of a building; the wonderful siege of the Tower of London; the climactic cathedral roof battle between D'Artagnan and Rochefort. The colors pop: neon blues on the king's guards' uniforms; Richelieu's raspberry cloak; black ominous clouds; luscious Kelly green of the gardens. Above all, Milla Jovovich has only grown lovelier: her porcelain skin, slightly pouted lip, glistening locks, cornflower blue eyes, and pale bosom, struggling to get free from the restraints of a tight corset are as fun to watch as the exquisite chandeliers and candelabras, glistening with opulence all around her, silk lace accentuating her long neck, feathers trembling in her hat, halos of diaphanous hoods around her face catching the light in sun-drenched rooms and illuminating her rosy cheeks - all as airy as the The Three Musketeers 2011 itself. But enough of that.
Even if plot-wise Anderson has decided to stay clear of blasphemy, the tone of the movie is decidedly 'now'. Acting, characterization and dialogue are purely mechanical: breasts are breasts, flying cannonballs are flying cannonballs, actors are actors, not necessarily the characters they are supposed to be playing. Logan Lerman is a tad too young for the role of D'Artagnan, but when the light hits his face right, there is a hint of a very subdued Cillian Murphy in his presence, which doesn't save his performance. Ray Stevenson as Porthos looks like an overweight Brad Pitt when a magnanimous lady friend gropes his manly waist. The rest of the actors, happy with their checks, are merely there to pronounce their lines. Even Venice, Paris and London look like retro Lego villages. In 3D.
The humor part is sad. Besides the red carpet reference and all that 'manly' talk about clothes so indicative of the current Project Runway era, there is little to laugh about. Excrement jokes are never funny, and Planchet (James Corden), the supposedly comic-relief vehicle, is simply painful.
Many a critic has called the movie soulless, empty, stupid, an epitome of 'corporate filmmaking'. Maybe these critics like to eat Foie gras with mustard seeds and green onions in duck jus every day. Maybe they are so perfect they never sink as low as pizza or peanut sandwiches. I don't think it helps to approach this movie with Almodůvar or Scorsese expectations. If someone is looking for an equivalent of exquisite French cuisine on a Saturday night at the movies choosing a director who shot Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator and Death Race isn't such a good idea. This is a pizza, everyone. And as that, it's fully satisfying. Burp.
On the plus side, the movie is never boring like the unforgettably tedious The Man in the Iron Mask. And even though the viewer knows the outcome of each sequence, it is impossible to take one's eyes off the screen. There is no real ending but there is a very optimistic/opportunistic hint at a sequel. The movie is PG-13 but I have to admit my four-and-a-half-year old was much more interested in The Three Musketeers 2011 than the age-appropriate (and lovely) Dolphin Tale, which only proves this steampunk action adventure blockbuster is aimed at (and will satisfy most) a younger audience. This completely innocuous remix of a classic provides brainless escapist entertainment. But will the youth equate The Three Musketeers 3D with Dumas' veneration of chivalry, loyalty and camaraderie? Now there's a scary thought.