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New ‘Musketeers’ adaptation justifies its existence

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

In Roger Ebert’s review of the 1993 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, he asked, “Is there a compelling need for another version of The Three Musketeers?” Since there have been around a dozen more adaptations since then, I suppose the question still stands.

But the new four-hour French-language epic from director Martin Bourboulon does at least seem to answer this in enough of a positive way—I don’t remember the last well-made swashbuckler we had, and I also don’t remember the last time someone treated this material as seriously as Bourboulon does. The new adaptation is split into two films, the first named after our hero, D’Artagnan, the second named after the scheming villain Milady de Winter. And purists should know the movies depart dramatically from Dumas’s original work, but in some cases, that’s actually quite a bit for the better. It’s also all a bit of a narrative mess, with major characters sometimes entering the story more or less out of nowhere, and our musketeers getting sidetracked from time to time for no really good reason.

But that’s not really why we’re here, is it? What we want are swordfights, and it’s swordfights we get… plus rather a bit more gunfire than I expected. And our musketeers are not the jolly kind who laugh at poking people with their swords like we sometimes see—they’re hard men, and killing people is ugly business, and while the films don’t revel in misery or brutality, they also don’t shy away from what it looks like when a knife goes through a leg. None of which is to say the movies are humorless, either: there’s more than enough levity and excitement to keep this from being a slog.

There are a ton of great actors filling out the familiar roles, too many to mention here, but the real star of the films is Bourboulon’s camera, which flies and swoops and tracks our characters as they run and jump and fight, as when D’Artagnan leaps off a castle wall into a moat and the camera leaps right off with him. It’s one moment among many that make these two movies a ton of fun, even if it’s not quite the story you read in school.

The Three Musketeers – Part I: D’Artagnan and The Three Musketeers – Part II: Milady are both available on VOD.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.