Even More Musketeer Mayhem
When I watched the 1973 version of "The Three Musketeers" I was pleasantly surprised because rather than some stuffy period piece it had the marvellous feel of a swashbuckling adventure laced with good humour. So when I got the opportunity to watch the 1989 sequel, I was hoping that "The Return of the Musketeers" would be the same mix of adventure and humour. Well technically I got adventure and I got comedy and rather miraculously I also got many of the same cast from the 1973 movie, but what I didn't get was a story. Actually that is a lie as "The Return of the Musketeers" does have a story, it's an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's "Twenty Years After", but the story is not important as comedy and action takes centre stage and anything of importance is spoon fed by a narration making it a movie which treats the audience like they are idiots and that is disappointing.
In the year 1649 Cardinal Mazarin (Philippe Noiret - Cinema Paradiso) fears a French revolt and so orders D'Artagnan (Michael York) to find and reunite the Musketeers to track down the popular Beaufort. Whilst Porthos (Frank Finlay) agrees to help, having become bored of his wealth both Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) and Athos (Oliver Reed) decline as unbeknown to anyone else they are assisting Beaufort. With Beaufort escaping, Mazarin sends the Musketeers which now includes Athos and his adopted son Raoul (C. Thomas Howell - Red Dawn) to England to try and rescue King Charles I (Bill Paterson) from Oliver Cromwell. But the musketeers must be careful as Justine (Kim Cattrall - Mannequin), the daughter of Milady de Winter, seeks revenge for the death of her mother and holds the Musketeers to blame.
As already mentioned "The Return of the Musketeers" is an adaptation of Dumas's "Twenty Years After" and as such we have a variety of stories some true to Dumas's story others changed to make things more interesting. But the thing is that whilst we have The Musketeers together again, fighting and drinking and reminiscing whilst trying to serve the Queen everything of importance is spoon fed to the audience. Right from the opening director Richard Lester relies heavily on a narration to inform us what has been going on in the lives of the Musketeers over the last 20 years which whilst annoying does do a quick job of basically giving us a catch up. But then the narration keeps on returning through out the movie, spoon feeding information rather than having us discover things more naturally.
And if it's not the narration it is the actually dialogue which spoon feeds us so much information that there is no point in watching if you want to enjoy the story. Basically it feels like Richard Lester either didn't care for the storyline or didn't think the audience would and so takes any mystery out of it to the point it feels like he is treating the audience like idiots. Now in fairness the best part of the first movie was the action, adventure and humour but at least it delivered a story which you needed to follow not wait for then next blurb bubble which tells you everything which is about to happen.
But the reliance on spoon feeding the story is not the only problem as it feels like the humour has been increased and not for the best. The entire intro from us entering with Planchet trying to steal food through to D'Artagnan moaning about being poor to catching up with Athos, Aramis and Porthos the humour runs too thick and fast. But it is not just the intro as the entire movie is bogged down by jokes, humour which doesn't flow naturally and often feels out of place.
And sadly along with the issue with the humour there is also an issue with the action side of things because whilst there is plenty of action it only really comes alive during the last 20 minutes or so. Maybe it all feels a little pedestrian, maybe that many of the sword fights feel staged and lack the rhythm and flow, what ever it is very few of the action scenes really get you excited. Now in fairness "The Return of the Musketeers" was dogged by tragedy with the death of Roy Kinnear following a horse accident and you do get a sense that maybe after this tragic incident those involved no longer wanted to be involved and for Richard Lester it was to be his last movie as director.
As for the acting well again the tragic loss does seem to have played its part because there are times when the numerous returning actors such as Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay are having a good time and getting into the spirit of things yet a few scenes later the energy and conviction has been wiped out. And to be honest it is the same with those who were new to the production be it C. Thomas Howell as Raoul or Kim Cattrall as Justine de Winter. In fact it is Kim Cattrall who ends up making the biggest impact and that is purely because she has this sexy femme fatale going on aided by some tight leather trousers. Wrong I know but sadly it is Cattrall and the leather trousers which end up being the most memorable thing about "The Return of the Musketeers".
What this all boils down to is that "The Return of the Musketeers" is a disappointing follow up because it's not that well balanced with the story being spoon fed to the audience by forced dialogue or unnecessary narration. Of course the tragic loss of Roy Kinnear during its production must have cast a large cloud over things and you get a feel that following his death those involved understandably lost heart in the movie.