Review: France’s first ‘Three Musketeers’ in decades kicks an old tale into high action gear

A man points a sword in the forest.
François Civil in the movie “The Three Musketeers — Part I: D’Artagnan.”
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)

It’s been over 60 years since France has made a movie version of one of its beloved literary benchmarks, Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 adventure “The Three Musketeers.” Not that the country’s filmmakers haven’t been busy reinventing the medium and all.

But in terms of cultural flamekeeping, this is legacy IP. Left untended, these iconic French swashbucklers end up being portrayed by a century’s worth of Yanks and Brits: Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly, Michael York, Oliver Reed, then (less impressively) Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Luke Evans. There’s even an American chocolate bar to contend with.

So the thrill of a proper French version — such as director Martin Bourboulon’s muscular, propulsive two-part adaptation, the first of which, “D’Artagnan,” is now hitting these shores — is to hear the roguish banter of this timeless trio in the melodic tongue of its original Romance language. In this case, it’s spoken by a coterie of appealing French actors: Vincent Cassel as aging warrior Athos; Romain Duris as soldier/lover Aramis; Pio Marmaï as teasing (and now merrily bisexual) hedonist Porthos; and François Civil as young Gascon hothead D’Artagnan.

This is no steamed-and-pressed romp, however. We may still be in the early 17th century and steeped in the palace intrigue surrounding pliable king Louis XIII (Louis Garrel) and his war-scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Éric Ruf). But the finish on this generally faithful retelling is very much the grit of today’s rough-and-tumble action movies, our foursome’s star wattage beaming out from under cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc’s earthy palette and costume designer Thierry Delettre’s muddied threads. (A cake of dirt never seems to entirely disappear from Civil’s boyishly handsome mug.)

Musketeers stand in a royal court.
A scene from the movie “The Three Musketeers — Part 1: D’Artagnan.”
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)

We quickly sense that director Bourboulon is keen on divorcing us from any cliched image of Dumas’ chivalric romantics as foppish and suave, delivering instead a band of scruffy, rock-and-roll combatants who suggest American West outlaws more than they do a clique born of landed Gallic nobility. They fight like modern action heroes too. Our first extended gawp at them plying their swordsmanship against the Cardinal’s henchmen is via the restless one-take style popularized in “The Revenant,” “Extraction” and countless superhero flicks, instead of the elegant choreography of classic thrust-and-parry swashbucklers.


That’s fine, because there have been countless “Musketeers” before of the old-fashioned variety. What this installment energetically proves is that you can ruffle the feathers of a totemic tale and still capture what’s good, galloping fun in Dumas’ storytelling: nefarious plots to be untangled, villains to be exposed and principled heroes to shoulder the risk of certain death while they tease each other mercilessly with heaps of panache.

It’s pleasurable being reminded, too, that the women were hardly sidelined in these stories. Vicky Krieps as the queen, trapped by her secret affair with an English duke (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), is inspired casting, while Eva Green as the enigmatic spy Milady is having a grand old time conspiratorially puffing on long, skinny pipes between bouts of assassinating in various wigs and disguises.

“Milady” is also the name of the forthcoming second part, which opens in French theaters next week and arrives stateside in 2024. That portends the unmistakable perfume of a fleshed-out origin story for Dumas’ iconic female villain. Maybe even her own rip-roaring redemption? Whichever the case, count me as “one for all” of it.

'The Three Musketeers — Part 1: D’Artagan'

Not rated

In French and English, with English subtitles

Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino