Directed by Martin Bourboulon | Written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière, based on the story by Alexandre Dumas | 122 min | ▲▲▲△△ | For rent on VOD and Digital
For French cinemas, this is a huge-budget adaptation of the beloved Dumas adventure story, and the first to be done in French language for decades. I grew up with the Richard Lester films from the 1970s and they helped define for me the pleasures of a swashbuckler. It’s fun to see this new one digging into the classic material — even though the story is disappointingly being told over two films (The Three Musketeers: Milady, shot back-to-back with this one, is coming soon).
This first one has a sterling cast and solid production values, but it falls a bit short in a few directorial decisions.
It’s the 1620s and everything’s covered in mud, especially Charles D’Artagnan (François Civil), just arrived in Paris to sign up with the King’s personal guard, the Musketeers. Within minutes in the city limits he gets an attempt on his life and digs himself out of a shallow grave.
He rapidly manages to insult all three of the most heroic of the King’s guard, the Musketeers, Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris), and Porthos (Pio Marmaï), and earn a tripartite duel for around midday — which ends up being unintentionally funny since the filmmaker is clearly fond of shooting around the golden hour. Pretty dramatic shadows for noon!
This plotting is about as close to farce as a French movie can get while also taking itself entirely seriously. That’s a bit of a surprise given how playful this material could be, but it’s not nearly as funny as I was hoping it would be. Maybe something’s been lost in translation.
It turns out The Queen (a terrific Vicky Krieps) is having an affair with a Brit, which is complicating the lives of the Musketeers serving the King (Louis Garrel), but need to make sure the Queen’s indiscretions aren’t discovered. This while hardcore Catholics Cardinal Richelieu (Éric Ruf) and the conniving Milady (Eva Green, the MVP here) plot to bring war on the Protestants by any means necessary.
A serious problem is the way Bourboulon chooses to shoot many of the action scenes. He prefers hand-held camera, often shooting over shoulders, and long, uninterrupted takes. That requires choreography to do well, and it looks like that’s what he’s got happening, but the herky-jerky camerawork actually does a disservice to the efforts of the stunt people. It makes the action a challenge to enjoy, even when you’re able to discern what’s happening to whom through too often gloomy visuals.
Beyond that, this story feels like an odd one to be doing in 2023: A tale that celebrates an elite squad of soldiers who have to lie to their lord and master and act like outlaws in order to minimize the chance of war. Protecting a corrupt system from within doesn’t feel entirely in touch with the zeitgeist, and it’s a cynical and exhausting thematic base for roguish adventure.
It’s all too bad, really, given the strength in the cast, the sets and costumes, and a lot of energy expended all around. It could be a terrific piece of entertainment, but in fact it’s only OK. Here’s hoping the sequel brings more actual buckles swashed, and Eva Green front and centre. She’s having more fun than anyone.