Fans of author Alexandre Dumas' 1844 serialized novel The Three Musketeers (or heck fans of the 1993 Chris O'Donnell/Charlie Sheen Disney version!) beware: The latest incarnation bears little resemblance to the version you remember from high school English. Unless you sped-read through the reading in-between levels of your favorite video game—in which case it might be exactly as you remember.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat the Resident Evil franchise) orchestrates his Musketeers with the rhyme and reason of a confetti popper loading his cinematic shotgun with familiar story beats paper thin characters and anachronistic technology in order blast his audience all the way back to last weekend's Saturday morning cartoons. The movie opens with the titular swashbucklers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) on a mission to crack Da Vinci's vault where the legendary inventor's master work is kept hidden. After running jumping slicing dicing and pressing every A+B+X+Y button combo imaginable it's Arthos' lady friend Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) who finally breaks in—only to steal Da Vinci's plans for a massive war machine and backstabbing the Musketeers in the process.
One year passes and we pick up with young son-of-an-ex-Musketeer D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who rides off to Paris in search of adventure. Before too long D'Artagnan crosses paths with the burnt-out swordsmen who see a little bit of themselves in the young lad who lays waste to 40 guardsmen after getting the stink eye (boy's got a bit of temper). The Musketeers return to form just in time as the movie's handful of villains are all preparing to strike at exactly the same moment. The Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) has built Da Vinci's balloon-powered airship and secretly plans an attack; Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) convinces Milady to double cross Buckingham planting the Queen's diamond necklace in the Duke's posession to incite war (but wasn't he already...? Nevermind); and Richelieu's number two Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) who just likes to stab Musketeers in the face.
There's a whole lot of plot going on in The Three Musketeers but the film's presentation is so scatterbrained so rapid-fire that none of the many throughlines ever click to make sense. But Anderson gets very very lucky—thanks in no small part to a colorful cast that elevates the lazy storytelling with energy humor and charm. Macfadyen is stoic and sharp as Athos while Evans does his best to inject actual character into Aramis glowing with friendliness and warmth around his fellow Musketeers. Stevenson's rugged Pathos adds much needed comedy making up for the lame Planchet (James Corden) the Musketeers' Chris Farley-wannabe sidekick. Unfortunately Lerman's D'Artagnan is a black hole of charisma—not helpful as he's the crux of the story.
Anderson can't decide which plotlines to follow so great performers like Waltz and Mikkelsen are cut short in favor of spotlighting the scantily-clad Jovovich (yes even 1600s garb) who carries over all the wooden skills she demonstrated in the Resident Evil movies. Orlando Bloom might be the only cast member who realizes he's in a movie destined to be campy. Donning pastels glitter and eyeshadow Bloom twists his mustache and takes it over the top. That's when Musketeers is at its most fun.
Airship battles sword fights and fast-paced Ocean's 11-style infiltration montages are more entertaining than the silly story would suggest but more often than not Anderson downplays Three Musketeers most interesting aspect: The Musketeers themselves. Gone is the camaraderie the "all for one one for all." Instead Three Musketeers is an experience similar to watching a friend play video games. That friend's not going to waste time clicking through dialogue and learning the story when he could be zipping through adrenaline-infused landscapes blasting baddies into smithereens. Not even for your sake.
As a thinking man’s actioner Ultimatum continues the franchise’s firm grasp on how spy games are actually played. The film starts at the point where Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is in Moscow having killed the assassin from Bourne Supremacy in a car crash. He has exacted his revenge for his girlfriend’s death but he is still haunted and needs to know how the hell he got into this predicament in the first place. Plus he’s got a new CIA schmuck Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) after him. Vosen has reopened the Treadstone project--now called Blackbriar--and is using a new cache of highly trained assassins to do his dirty work. Luckily for Bourne he’s got two women on his side: CIA lackey Pam Landy (Joan Allen) who while in the situation room tries to thwart Vosen at every turn; and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) the young logistician who covers for Bourne whenever she runs into him. With their help our intrepid assassin circumvents the globe in typical Bourne fashion so he can hunt down his past in order to find a future. Damon has truly perfected his Bourne alter ego in this third go-around. With his cool demeanor he really makes it all look so effortless--jet-setting around the world fighting enemies off with pens books towels cars whatever he can get his hands on and covertly obtaining the information he needs. Damon is an accomplished actor no doubt able to take on a variety of roles--but he may never quite top Bourne. Damon is also surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast. In both Supremacy and Ultimatum Allen as Landy stands out in the crowd of power-hungry men she works for and with infusing the proceedings with a steely intelligence--and ultimately compassion. Stiles too is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise testosterone-filled environment and her Nicky may actually have more of connection to Bourne than we previously thought. The stellar Strathairn a character actor who can play both hero and villain with relative ease adds the sneaky Vosen to his list of bad guys while Albert Finney makes a brief but memorable appearance as a link to Bourne’s past. Helming his second Bourne installment after getting our hearts pounding with Supremacy Paul Greengrass (United 93) gets it. Although the Bournes sprouted from the furtive mind of spy-thriller author Robert Ludlum the director seems keyed into the whole spy genre as well handing us what feels to be a genuine look at how covert operations might work. From the operations center in which CIA personnel can find ways to tap into a target’s life via any number of ways to the action on the streets Greengrass keeps it moving at a whiplash pace. We’ve now come to expect the seat-clenching car chases along with at least one hand-to-hand combat scene between Bourne and some other super assassin in which Bourne kills his attacker with sheer brute force aided by some everyday item. Still they never seem redundant flowing nicely into the storyline. Greengrass’ filmmaking style however can be a tad jolting at times. He loves putting the audience in the middle of the action swinging the camera around fast-cutting between shots keeping things slightly confusing on who’s doing what to whom. But that real-time look and feel is what makes the Bourne movies unique from other actioners. Could there be room for a fourth Bourne? One can only hope.