Author: Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak
Writer’s Potential: 7
The Three Musketeers take new recruit D’artagnan under their wing to foil Cardinal Richelieu’s plot to start a war between France and England.
A narrator sets the backstory: in the early 18th century, LOUIS XIII ascended the throne. He and his wife, QUEEN ANNE, are friendless in a world that seems on the brink of war. Only CARDINAL RICHELIEU, the king’s advisor, can steer them clear of war. At the Venetian carnival, ATHOS silently comes up from a canal and shoots some guards (masked by the popping fireworks) and scales the wall of Doge Palace. Meanwhile, ARAMIS, dressed like a priest, makes a perfectly timed dive off a bridge, onto a passing gondola, where he beats a nobleman until he gives up a key he wears around his neck. The nobleman’s lady ditches him for Aramis. PORTHOS, a huge man, is led in chains into the palace dungeon, surrounded by guards. Porthos rips through the chains and beats on the guards, stealing a second key from his chief captor. The Musketeers meet outside the palace treasury, where they’re nearly killed by MILADY, a beautiful woman who doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy. Together, they get into the treasure: the two keys, plus a code Milady got by seducing a man, leads them to files written by Leonardo Da Vinci, who also designed the treasury’s safe. Taking the files immediately sets of an old-fashioned alarm, so the men have to sprint past arrows, floors pulling apart, but they still can’t get out of the maze-like safe. Milady has brought a contingency plan: a makeshift explosive vest, which punches a hole in the wall, allowing them to escape before the place fills up with water. Our heroes swim through the canal and get drunk at a nearby inn—but Milady has betrayed them, to the shock of Athos (who is madly in love with her). She received a better offer from BUCKINGHAM, an English precursor to James Bond, so she poisoned their drinks, knocking them unconscious. Milady and Buckingham take Da Vinci’s files and leave.
Three years later, brash young D’ARTAGNAN is caught having sex with a count’s daughter. He is arrested and sentenced to death, but D’Artagnan manages to beat up the armed guards and threaten the count with a sword until he releases him. D’Artagnan’s father sends him away on an old horse, Buttercup, to become a musketeer. D’Artagnan arrives at Meung, an old village filled with rough people who look more like they belong in the Wild West than Europe. As soon as D’Artagnan arrives, ROCHEFORT (huge and sinister) insults his horse. D’Artagnan challenges him to a duel on the spot, but before they can get to that, Milady appears from the shadows and bashes D’Artagnan in the head, knocking him flat. Rochefort thanks her, and the couple sets off for Paris. Later, D’Artagnan arrives in Paris, where he finds the musketeer headquarters resembling an old ghost town. He sees Rochefort again and gives chase, but he loses him quickly. Athos gets hammered at a pub. D’Artagnan intentionally rams into him, prompting Athos to challenge him to a duel. At a shop, Porthos—who is now the boytoy of an aristocratic widow—tries on new clothes. D’Artagnan humiliates him by drawing attention to the widow’s purse, which Porthos must use to pay. Porthos challenges him to a duel. D’Artagnan returns to Buttercup, where he finds a ticket for his horse defecating o the street. D’Artagnan argues with Aramis, who gave him the ticket, and challenges Aramis to a duel. Aramis is confused, but he accepts.
Milady shows up at Richelieu’s office to give news from England—she’s a spy, working for Richelieu to pry information out of Buckingham, who is planning to come to France to discuss this. King Louis overhears this and is delighted. Richelieu is not. Privately, he plots with Milady to make it look like Buckingham is having an affair with Queen Anne, and “prove” it by planting a diamond necklace Louis bought her as a gift in the Tower of London. D’Artagnan meets Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in the same location for the duel. They’re all shocked to find he’s tricked them. He wants to be a musketeer and wants to learn from the best. They scoff at him, but he gets his chance soon enough: on behalf of Rochefort, JUSSAC, one of Richelieu’s head guards, stops D’Artagnan for dueling, which is against the law. The musketeers are willing to let D’Artagnan fight his way out of it, until Jussac calls wave after wave of guards. It’s 40 against one, but D’Artagnan makes a go of it despite the odds. Impressed by his guile and swordsmanship, the other musketeers join him, and together, they defeat Jussac’s guards. The fight is witnessed by CONSTANCE, one of Queen Anne’s ladies, who is quietly impressed by D’Artagnan despite his cocky demeanor. Standing proud as the villagers cheer the musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis remember what they’ve been missing over the past three years. They lead D’Artagnan away before more guards are sent after them, and they explain that Rochefort is Richelieu’s second-in-command.
The musketeers take D’Artagnan to their apartment, where he meets their comic-relief manservant, PLANCHET. They force Planchet to sleep on the balcony, giving D’Artagnan his bed for the night. The next day, the foursome is hauled in front of Richelieu and Louis to be punished for defeating so many guards. Richelieu urges Louis to punish them harshly, but Louis is so impressed that his musketeers were able to defeat 40 men, he lets them off with a slap on the wrist—and gives newbie D’Artagnan a personal tour. Buckingham arrives at the palace in a huge airship. Louis wonders why they don’t have an airship. Queen Anne arrives, a vision of loveliness. Constance stands by her side, shocking D’Artagnan. While the monarchs are distracted with business, Milady sneaks into the Queen’s chambers to steal her diamond necklace and place forged love letters from Buckingham. Privately, Buckingham meets with Richelieu to sign the peace treaty. They already have another war and a recession.
One of the Queen’s ladies finds the fake letters. Louis finds out and is horrified. He goes to Richelieu for advice, fearing these letters might have been planted by Buckingham. Richelieu suggests Louis test Anne by throwing a ball and asking her to wear a token of their affection—say, the diamond necklace. If she does, he knows she loves her; if she doesn’t, he knows it’s all true. Louis loves the idea. Anne tells Constance to take the necklace to the jeweler’s for polishing. Constance discovers the necklace is missing. Anne is upset and terrified, knowing Richelieu is behind this. Constance goes to the musketeers, laying everything out: she wants them (specifically D’Artagnan) to steal the necklace from the Tower of London, the most fortified structure on the planet, and get past Richelieu’s guards to return the necklace to Anne. D’Artagnan agrees to it immediately, but the others are unconvinced. D’Artagnan sets out alone. Constance wants to come with, but he won’t allow it—she’ll distract him. The musketeers change their mind, agreeing to help D’Artagnan. Rochefort learns of the musketeers’ plans and warns Richelieu, who tells him to put a price on the musketeers’ head. The musketeers go to an outlaw tavern near the harbor, filled with Chinese and Barbary pirates, Indian warriors, Arab traders. They seek passage on a Russian ship from a Cossack they vaguely know, but he knows of the price on their head and betrays them. Porthos kills the Russian, getting the attention of everyone else in the tavern. The musketeers are forced to fight their way out of the tavern, against the huge cavalcade of pirates and outlaws.
Eventually, they get outside, where they commandeer a wagon and flee to an empty ship, leaving Constance behind. Rochefort nabs her and brings her back to Richelieu. The musketeers plan their heist at the Tower of London. Athos explains an elaborate plan on the Tower’s complex vault. Meanwhile, Milady tells Buckingham what she suspects the musketeers will do—she’s exactly right. When Athos finishes telling the plan, he explains that this is exactly what they’ll expect, so they’re going to do something totally different: go in during the day, use the increased security to their advantage (lots of new faces), and have D’Artagnan (their wild card, whom Milady won’t recognize) actually sneak into the vault. Once in London, the three musketeers intentionally get arrested, distracting the guards as D’Artagnan (in uniform) falls in line with them. D’Artagnan sneaks into the tower and tries to pick the timed lock on the vault door. Buckingham is waiting, and he arrests D’Artagnan, laughing at how poor their plan was. That’s when D’Artagnan announces the musketeers weren’t the decoy; he was. The musketeers stole Buckingham’s airship and fire cannons into his office and the vault. D’Artagnan leaps out the office window onto the ship.
Athos lets D’Artagnan in on a little secret: the necklace was never in the vault. Milady wouldn’t risk them actually succeeding, so she must have them on her person. Fortunately, they’ve planned for that: Planchet drives her coach. He lets the horses go free while the musketeers lower a cable, puling the coach up with them. Unable to escape, Milady surrenders the necklace. Athos prepares to kill her, but she takes a dive out of the airship first, into the water. Once they reach France, they think they’re in the clear—but Rochefort shows up in a new airship, bigger than Buckingham’s and better armed. Inside, he holds Constance hostage. They trade the diamonds for Constance, but Rochefort still wants them dead. Outmanned and outgunned, the musketeers have no choice but to hide in a fog bank, waiting for Rochefort, before ramming into his airship, knocking it wildly off course. Their airship gets above Rochefort’s, crushing it like an anvil. Both airships get snagged on the incomplete Notre Dame cathedral. Rochefort and D’Artagnan fight. Rochefort plummets to his death.
Before Richelieu can seize the musketeers, they’ve taken their worse-for-wear airship back to the palace, where they bestow the necklace upon Anne just before she has to present herself at the ball. Louis is thrilled, reaffirmed by their love. After the happy fade to black, Milady awakens on a ship. Buckingham has rescued her. He’s leading a fleet of ships to France—it’s time for war. Buckingham promises this is only the beginning.
Three Musketeers is a very entertaining, action-packed adventure in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean. Although the second act drags and gets bogged down with too much dull conversation, the script has some engaging characters and interesting action set-pieces. As written, it merits a consider.
The script seems hellbent on putting the story of The Three Musketeers into a modern context, starting with the opening sequence, which seems more like something out of a James Bond movie than a period adventure. The writers make it work, though. After the opening sequence, the story slows down a bit to introduce the characters—the musketeers and the villains, followed by D’Artagnan’s quest to be accepted into the musketeer fold. It’s all fairly engaging and fun, until the second act grinds to a halt. The writers devote far too much time to explaining fairly simple plot points and even simpler character motivations, so the story drags quite a bit until the musketeers finally take action and set sail for England.
The sequence at the Tower of London is also slightly problematic, because the writers attempt a triple fake-out that’s surprising, but mainly because it relies on characters discussing things they wouldn’t discuss if they were planning to do something completely different. It was fine when Athos laid out a whole plan before revealing that’s just what Milady would expect—it’s another for him to lay out a second plan solely for the benefit of the audience, and then settle on a third, completely separate plan to surprise the audience. It’s a cheat, and a pretty lazy one. Despite the cheating, the script presses on to an entertaining third act. The idea of 17th-century airships doing battle over the English Channel is pretty novel, although having the heroes and villains physically separated prevents it from having the visceral thrills of the swordplay featured earlier in the script. However, for the sake of variety, it still pretty much works. The resolution is fairly hokey, but still satisfying—until the goofy, eyerolling sequel-setup scene at the very end.
This is not a character-driven film, so it’s nice to see the writers did a reasonably good job of distinguishing the heroes’ personalities. The notion of having the musketeers bottom out and forcing D’Artagnan to make them believe in themselves again works fairly well. What works better is D’Artagnan’s arc from wide-eyed innocent to skilled fighter. The transformation happens quickly, but not so quickly that it’s unbelievable.
The romantic subplot with Constance, who is not a very well-developed character, is a waste of time. D’Artagnan and Constance spend most of their time talking in circles, so it doesn’t feel so much like a relationship developing as two people conversing because the plot says so. It’s disappointingly lackluster, so when she’s put in jeopardy in the third act, it seems more like a distraction than an emotional turning point for D’Artagnan.
This leaves the villains, who are pretty much cartoon characters. Not necessarily in a bad way, but not in a good way, either. The writers attempt to give Milady some nuance, but it becomes clear fairly quickly that she’s only loyal to herself. As far as Richelieu, Buckingham, and Rochefort go, they’re all pretty much interchangeable, and all they lack are mustaches to twirl. But this isn’t a complex, multifaceted morality tale—it’s a fun, goofy adventure, and on that level it succeeds.
The main thing needed to guarantee this script’s success is good casting in the pivotal roles of the musketeers. Chopping out the extraneous dialogue in the second act will help, too, but if the musketeers are bland, lifeless actors, it will ruin what could be a decent action-adventure movie.