For every faithful ‘Musketeers’ adaptation there’s another one with flying galleons or dogs playing people. Apparently the French have had enough, and have reclaimed their classic novel for a two-part epic (part two arrives at the end of 2023). Thanks to some judicious plot tweaks and a full-bodied commitment to action, director Martin Bourboulon (Eiffel) has succeeded in making the best Alexandre Dumas adaptation in decades.
The year is 1627 and young d’Artagnan (François Civil) is riding to Paris to join the Musketeers when he happens upon a murderous scuffle. This proves significant to a link between the Queen, Anne of Austria (Vicky Krieps), and an English minister; one that Milady (Eva Green) and her boss Richelieu (Eric Ruf) are trying to manipulate. D’Artagnan and the friends he soon makes will have to foil these plans to save the Queen and King Louis XIII (Louis Garrel).
It’s a strong cast even before you get to the titular trio: Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris) and Porthos (Pio Marmai). Then it becomes clear that this is sort of a Gallic Avengers, a ludicrous embarrassment of riches in fabulous costumes and swishy wigs.
What really sets it apart, however, is the smartness of its adaptation. Bourboulon hews close to Dumas for iconic moments – d’Artagnan’s rash introduction to his fellows, Athos’s backstory – but is never slavish. He draws out timely questions of religious and political paranoia to give depth to the effectively chaotic fight scenes, shot in long swooping takes, and adds some modern resonance to Dumas’ derring-do.
With even more conspiracy than usual, the plot’s many threads are occasionally muddled, in ways that will hopefully be untangled in the second part, but it’s hard to care about whether the details make sense when it’s galloping along and duelling madly like this.
When even Louis XIII is a sex symbol, you know a Musketeers movie is stuffed with talent
Civil makes a superb d’Artagnan, all youthful impetuosity and puppy dog charm, while Green is exactly as great as you’d expect as Milady. Most surprisingly, Garrel manages to add considerable depth to the usually thankless role of Louis. When even Louis XIII is a sex symbol, you know your Musketeers movie is stuffed to the gills with talent. Sorry, Dogtanian, but you have been surpassed.
In French cinemas now and UK cinemas Apr 21.