Everybody knows the story…or do they? There may have been 50 cinematic versions of Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 adventure since the early 20th century, but the new rendition by French director Martin Bourboulon—split over two films—is bringing this swashbuckling tale of heroism back into vogue.
Gone is the cutesy comedy and cartoonish action of adaptations gone by. This is The Three Musketeers for a new generation: gritty, thrilling, surprisingly faithful to the richness of the source material.
Bourboulon wastes no time plunging us into the mud-splattered world of 1627 France, as young Gascon farmboy d’Artagnan makes a splashy entrance into Parisian society. Brash and hotheaded but guided by his sense of duty and honor, he becomes fast friends with legends Athos, Porthos and Aramis of the famed King’s Musketeers. But king and country are under threat from within the court, forcing our heroes into a deadly game of secrets, schemes and sabers.
With an all-star French cast, jaw-dropping cinematography and over two hours of action set pieces, Part I exceeded box office projections at home and abroad. Like a true Dumas serial, it leaves fans hanging for the next chapter come December. This time around, Hollywood seems determined not to butcher such a beloved property. Hopefully the full import of Bourboulon’s vision comes across in limited theatrical release stateside. After all, sometimes you have to see it in French to believe it: this classic for the ages feels thrillingly new again.
A Clash of Blades and Wits in 17th Century Paris
It’s the year 1627 in France, where young Gascon farm boy d’Artagnan rides eagerly to Paris to join the elite royal guard known as the Musketeers. Brash and headstrong but guided by duty and honor, his fighting skills catch the eye of the legends themselves: world-weary swordsman Athos, lusty gastronome Porthos and pious ladies’ man Aramis. But d’Artagnan has a knack for making the wrong first impression. Hot tempers lead to back-to-back duels with each of the men he hopes to befriend.
Little do they know, a web of courtly intrigue threatens king and country alike. Without an heir to protect the throne, King Louis XIII rules uneasily over a land rife with religious tension. His most trusted advisor, the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, secretly schemes with his ruthless agent Milady de Winter to manipulate Louis into declaring war on French Protestants. Their meddling endangers not only the throne, but the honor and reputation of Louis’ wife: the lovely but indiscreet Queen Anne.
Her affair with a visiting English duke named Buckingham provides the catalyst that drives much of the film’s action. As Richelieu and Milady catch wind of Anne’s illicit romance, d’Artagnan finds himself thrust alongside Athos, Porthos and Aramis on a dangerous mission to retrieve proof of the tryst before it becomes a scandal. Little do they realize the extent of the Cardinal’s sinister plans, or the deadly determination of his ‘Cardinal’s Guards’ to stop them.
What follows is a thrilling, mud-spattered spectacle covering everything Dumas fans expect: a merry chase for stolen jewels with assassins at every turn, palace intrigue and politics rubbing shoulders with tavern brawls, an heirloom swordfight atop a precarious cliffside tower, even a cameo from the Cardinal’s real-life pet monkey! All while our young upstart tries to woo the Queen’s lovely handmaiden Constance under their noses. In the end, Richelieu still holds sway and the cold-hearted Milady escapes to fight another day. But with a royal promotion to Musketeer under his belt, d’Artagnan’s ready for the next round!
A Visceral Adventure in Mud and Blood
Bourboulon immediately sets the tone, plunging us into a dark, chaotic battle scene thick with grime, gunsmoke, and clashing swords. Rather than romanticize the 17th century setting, he aims for gutsy realism via dynamic camerawork and practical effects. Fight coordinators stage elaborate battle scenes with real metal blades, muzzle-loaded pistols, and stunt performers genuinely leaping, crashing and swimming their way through the action.
Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc’s love of the long take captures it all: his camera dodges galloping horses, smoothly follows actors through complex choreography, even passes dangerously close to real weapons mid-swing. It’s an appropriate style to complement D’Artagnan’s reckless improvisation and raw athleticism. Shaky cam and overt CGI are refreshingly absent.
The film’s visual language stays grounded via earthy costumes, natural light and plenty of mud. In fact everything appears drab, dirty and rain-soaked; the only real splashes of color come from blood spilled on brown peasant jackets. Some reviewers consider it dour and monotonous. Yet combined with the lack of computer effects, the candlelit interiors, soot-stained brick and mud-spattered soldiers lend a convincing sense of 17th century life.
There’s little graceful pageantry here; the fancy palace balls happen mainly offscreen. Instead we get plenty of grit, sweat and grime smeared across faces both handsome and pockmarked. Forget the pomaded hair and silk finery of Hollywood’s musketeer fantasies. These men are grubby, scarred, weathered. Every costume bears the stains of heavy use. It’s a far cry from the visual excess of Paul W.S. Anderson’s slick 2011 remake. Bourboulon doesn’t shy away from showing us that while adventure thrills the soul, real danger leaves its mark on body and mind.
Dynamic Ensemble Brings the Legend to Life
Bourboulon assembled an impressive roster of French cinema royalty for his sprawling adventure. Fittingly, rising star François Civil makes for a perfect d’Artagnan: brash and athletic, naively confident yet innately heroic. The baby-faced Civil eschews d’Artagnan’s usual portrayal as a bumpkin, instead oozing natural charisma and skill. Sparks fly whenever he clashes swords with Vincent Cassel’s melancholy Athos, Romain Duris’ principled Aramis or Pio Marmaï’s unusually reflective Porthos.
Cassel in particular brings pathos and gravitas as the Musketeer haunted by demons from a past romance gone wrong. Duris plays elegantly off Civil’s impulsiveness as the voice of wisdom, while Marmaï gets a fresh angle on the merry Porthos. Usually portrayed for comic relief, here he adds dimension as a traumatized bisexual bon vivant.
The lean, wolfish Éric Ruf is understated yet chilling as lead villain Richelieu. But the true casting coup is Eva Green as his ruthless agent, Milady de Winter. No current actress rivals Green’s ability to blend icy calculation with elegant seduction and simmering rage. She steals every scene, leaving us keyed up for her continued prominence in the sequel.
Among the royals, Vicky Krieps elegantly portrays Queen Anne’s scandalous affair with dignified restraint. Krieps speaks five languages fluently, and her multinational upbringing fits perfectly for a French Queen consort of Spanish descent. But perhaps most surprising is Louis Garrel as the boyish, oft-unlikable Louis XIII. Usually portrayed as either a fawning simpleton or preening autocrat, Garrel gives the King an intriguing measure of depth, wit and gravitas.
Together these icons breathe fresh life into archetypal genres. World-weary mentor? Foppish clergyman? Cunning femme fatale? Resourceful heroine torn between love and duty? They’ve all been done before, but Bourboulon’s ensemble makes them feel brand new. Much like the source material itself, the 2023 Musketeers cast manages to balance gripping action with nuanced character drama centering on the complex interplay of duty, trust, honor and betrayal.
Beyond the Swordplay: Timely Themes of Loyalty, Betrayal and Purpose
On the surface, The Three Musketeers looks like a simple celebration of swaggering heroes and their never-ending battles. But between the swordfights and palace intrigue, Bourboulon explores resonant questions of purpose, loyalty and betrayal with surprisingly nuanced character drama.
The Musketeers themselves exemplify duty before self, sworn to serve and protect king and crown at any cost. Yet these paragons of virtue struggle internally with their own vices and haunted pasts. Porthos hides wartime trauma behind his lust for life, while Athos increasingly questions whether their valor has purpose in serving such a spoiled, petty ruler like Louis XIII.
This tension between dutiful loyalty and quiet doubt elevates the swashbuckling genre. And it finds interesting counterpoint in Queen Anne’s secret affair with Buckingham. The film neither excuses nor sensationalizes her infidelity, instead using it thoughtfully to examine loveless political marriages and the suppression of female agency. Anne is far from a damsel in distress; her discreet autonomy and moral ambiguity make her one of Bourboulon’s most resonant characters.
D’Artagnan, meanwhile, provides an audience proxy struggling to balance matters of personal honor with concerns of state amidst France’s warring political and religious factions. Like the others, he grapples with sobering questions of identity, morality and the true cost of lethal violence in serving crown and clergy.
Bourboulon gives this nuance sufficient screen time alongside the visual spectacle. After all, what good is patriotic duty when it enables the unchecked ambition of church and crown? What personal toll arises from being asked to kill on behalf of another man’s pride or dogma? The story resonates today not just through its lavish action, but by sincerely examining timeless quandaries of conscience versus duty, fidelity versus autonomy, sacrifice versus morality.
In the end, the film suggests finding purpose through friendship and defending those who cannot defend themselves. Even when doubt corrodes faith or politics grow corrupt, human decency endures whenever brave souls take a principled stand together. These timely insights should resonate profoundly with modern viewers amidst our own divided era.
Capturing the Spirit of a Literary Legend
Unlike the radical revisions by Paul W.S. Anderson and Disney’s cartoon anthropomorphisms, Bourboulon clearly cares about accurately translating Dumas’ spirit to the screen. Core relationships feel genuine: d’Artagnan and Constance’s meet-cute, Athos and Milady’s tortured history, the easy camaraderie between our heroes. Major plot points hit their marks, from the initial triple duel to Buckingham’s stolen diamonds, Queen Anne’s risky affair and Richelieu’s background machinations.
At the same time, Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière’s script tightens loose threads for clarity while peppering in original scenes. Refreshingly little feels sacrificed; if anything the simplified plotting helps the characters shine. We still get signature setpieces like a chaotic tavern brawl, a perilous tower-top duel, even a literal cliffhanger!
The film also maximizes its 19th Century serial roots by emphasizing tempo and escalation over resolution, priming appetite for the next chapter instead of cramming the whole saga into one feature. Yet Part I works splendidly on its own merits.
By bartering quantity for quality while trusting Dumas’ blueprint, Bourboulon heightens iconic moments that drive home core themes of brotherhood and betrayal. The ending even allows a natural transition to the source material’s latter serialized half. So while the odd embellishment raises continuity questions, overall the adaptation seems more celebration than exploitation. Far from the radical reimaginings of the past, petitions for Part III may soon emerge!
A Faithful, Gritty Vision Breaks the Remake Mold
Unlike the breezy romps or family-friendly fare that characterized so many prior adaptations, Bourboulon’s grounded vision better captures the swashbuckling grittiness that first captivated 19th century readers. Fans of Richard Lester’s 1973 comic treatment or the 1993 Disney version may be surprised by the lack of slapstick hijinks and one-liner wordplay. But the film’s serious tone remains truer to Dumas, resulting in layered characters and resonant themes largely glossed over elsewhere.
While some critics took issue with the monotonous color palette, Bourboulon clearly aimed for historical realism over Hollywood fantasy. Gone are the pomaded hair and brocade finery of Michael York, Charlie Sheen and their cartoonish cohorts. In their place we get authentic mud, blood, sweat and tears staining doublets that show heavy wear and weathering. No stylized explosions or wire-fu swordfights either; each bruise and laceration carries visceral weight from grueling stuntwork.
The 2011 remake with Logan Lerman attempted similar earthiness, but smothered any nuance under MTV-style editing, clumsy CGI and a bombastic score. Critics blasted its superficial style as the death knell of a once-inspired property.
A decade later, Bourboulon’s stately camerawork, dedication to practical effects and powerhouse ensemble leave the franchise fully resurrected. Streamlined subplots allow relatable protagonists to shine in place of chaotic, overloaded story threads. Several set pieces even rival classics like The Princess Bride or Zorro for old-fashioned peril and thrills.
Despite modern blockbuster trappings like a 2-part cliffhanger, Bourboulon ultimately succeeds by avoiding revisionist re-invention in favor of earnest adaptation. There’s no winking irony or flashy 21st century makeover needed. Give us fleshed-out personalities over shallow caricatures, elegant bladework over wire-fu chaos, real metal striking real armor instead of weightless CGI. The result? A swashbuckling legend finally given his due.
Triumphant Return to Form Anchored by Style and Substance
Minor quibbles aside, Bourboulon’s ambitious two-part saga likely constitutes the most lavish, energetic and faithful Musketeers adaptation to date. Bolstered by knockout production values and a uniformly excellent French cast, the film succeeds both as a gritty 17th century action spectacle and a surprisingly thoughtful drama centered on timely themes of loyalty, betrayal and moral purpose.
If the saturated colors, liberal mud and grungy peasant garb occasionally grow monotonous, they nevertheless reflect the director’s vision of grounding Dumas’ soaring adventure in tangible history. Dynamic camerawork captures brutal stunt choreography and practical swordplay with visceral immediacy, while lengthy runtime and a simplified storyline give the characters room to exhibit nuance and growth beyond surface archetypes.
Eva Green particularly impresses as the coldly alluring Milady, but impressive performances abound, from Duris and Cassel’s world-weary charm to Marmaï’s unexpectedly reflective Porthos. And while certain twists push credulity, overall the plot remains admirably faithful to Dumas’ intricate web of courtly schemes and scandals. Garrel’s foppish but sympathetic Louis XIII even suggests hidden depths to be further mined in Part II.
If the first installment’s barnstorming final act is any indication, The Three Musketeers saga should continue its triumphant return engagement later this winter. Bourboulon reinvigorates the property by honoring its strengths instead of chasing modern fads. The result both satisfies what made the novel beloved for nearly two centuries, and exposes its timeless insights to new generations.
The Three Musketeers - D'Artagnan
With impressive production values and a dynamic ensemble cast who finally do justice to Dumas's iconic characters, Bourboulon's muscular adaptation balances throwback thrills with modern depth and nuance. Minor quibbles aside, this gritty, energetic rendering should satisfy die-hard fans and newcomers alike.
- Strong performances from charismatic leads
- Impressive practical effects and stuntwork
- Dynamic camerawork and cinematography
- Lavish production values and costumes
- Mostly faithful adaptation of source material
- Thrilling action sequences
- Excessive brown color grading
- Some convoluted subplots
- Overlong runtime
- Certain implausible plot contrivances