Review by Daniel Lima
Another year, another adaptation of The Three Musketeers. This rendition, The Three Musketeers - Part I: D'Artagnan, is a lavish French production filled with the intrigue, romance, and action you'd expect from a take on the classic novel. Though there's never a dull moment and plenty here to light up the imagination, one can't help but wish that the filmmakers were a bit more inspired in how they approached the material.
Like the novel, the film follows the young and brash D'Artagnan as he arrives in Paris, seeking a place in Louis XIII's esteemed royal guard. Quickly earning the friendship of the titular trio, he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy to spark a war between the king, dissident Protestant elements, and the British crown that supports them.
While faithfulness to the original work and historical fidelity (or at least, the perspective this film chooses takes) require familiarity with both French literature and history, the unfolding narrative here is as gripping as it is busy, probably the result of condensing the novel to the length of two films. As dense as the crisscrossing web of schemes and allegiances gets, every character's goals are clear, never getting too convoluted to follow. There's a thrill to watching plans come into focus only to be thwarted, be they the heroes' or the villains', and it's easy to see why this story continuously gets remixed and repeated.
The star-studded cast does a great job of preventing the characters from becoming mere props in yet another retelling. The noble rogues — Francois Civil in particular — have a playful air while nevertheless displaying a serious commitment to their charge; Louis Garrel conveys someone accustomed to power yet tempered by a reluctance for conflict; Eva Green oozes charisma and mystery in her femme fatale role. A film so packed with plot might have ended feeling like a dutiful retread, but these performances make the movie something more.
While this is clearly a production with money behind it, with lots of location shooting, intricate costumes, big practical effects, and lots of extras, the scale of the budget is not reflected in the filmmaking craft. The resplendent interior of the royal palace looks just as muted and underlit as a campsite in the middle of the woods, and the camera never seeks to capture more than whoever is speaking at a particular moment. The sole bits of flair come from the action, a series of stitched-together oners and long takes, and even they amount to random bits of violence happening until the heroes prevail, with no attempt to tell a story within the set piece. It's not bad by any stretch, but it ultimately leaves the film feeling less like a grand cinematic experience and more like a particularly expensive streaming show.
Despite that, The Three Musketeers - Part I: D'Artagnan is a solidly entertaining take on the well-worn novel. Though the winding narrative and the excellent cast are a bit under-served by the filmmaking, they are still enough to keep the movie engaging, enough that I myself am considering reading Dumas' tome before the second part. If that doesn't speak to the strength of this adaptation, what possibly could?
The Three Musketeers - Part I: D’Artagnan is available in theaters and on demand December 8.