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Commend Me to Satan

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Ben King/Pathé Distribution

MOVIE REVIEW
The Three Musketeers: Milady (2023)

In “The Three Musketeers: Milady” there’s a very early shot of Eva Green in chains, a standard of excellence it regrettably never achieves again. This follows an extensive recap of the complex plot of “The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan” which only came out in May. That movie was a better success than this one, in that it was about the merry gang of musketeers, Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris) and Porthos (Pio Marmaï), becoming the best of friends with new recruit D’Artagnan (François Civil) through various complicated intrigues requiring their combined fighting skills. But those adventures are a bath-time book compared to this movie, which contains so many disparate elements our fab four barely have any screen time together. This is a mistake as great as the treatment of Milady (Ms. Green), who here is more weepy damsel in distress than world-class spy.

Wicked Protestants, including Athos’s brother, are attempting to overthrow the Catholic king though besieging the city of La Rochelle, a port in convenient reach of an interfering English navy. There are so many conspirators and double-crossers the script by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière gives up and admits it’s too confusing to hold anybody responsible. But honestly, it’s all just an excuse for plenty of thrilling battle scenes, with swordfighting, exploding carts, people thrown off castle ramparts and the occasional assistance of an African prince named Hannibal (Ralph Amoussou). Nicolas Bolduc’s first-person camera is back again but while it’s just as beautiful the point-of-view work has strangely less dramatic effect this time. There might just be too much going on. In between the mayhem, Athos must deal with the secret of his past with Milady becoming known; Aramis’s sister, Mathilde (Camille Rutherford), a nun, is inconveniently pregnant; Porthos is sidelined with a leg injury that keeps his pants down; Milady hunts down some missing, erm, paperwork; and D’Artagnan gallops hither and yon in an attempt to locate his kidnapped girlfriend, Constance (Lyna Khoudri, for whom my offer of a large sum of money in exchange for her thoughts about this experience still stands). The King (Louis Garrel) and Queen (Vicky Krieps) are mostly invisible as the various musketeers run around holding the Duke of This or the Cardinal of That at knife or gunpoint as they attempt to work out just what the hell is going on. But we all know what happens when there’s a woman to blame.

Despite being the title character Ms. Green has much less to do this time around; and this impression holds despite the number of sword fights she’s in the middle of. Milady is forever slipping out her décolleté in an attempt to render whoever she’s talking to helpless, and in this movie it just doesn’t work. You lose count of how many times she tries and fails to stab somebody, too. Director Martin Bourboulon has made the schoolboy error of assuming the audience either has recently read the book or has a master’s degree in French history. Sometimes simplifying a story has its benefits. As it is, Mr. Civil has the lion’s share of the action, as D’Artagnan’s search for Constance is the most obviously dramatic story arc, and while he is more than equal to playing both the besotted hero and the cutthroat soldier, it’s not a lot of fun. If the first movie was D’Artagnan’s internship, this is where the wide-eyed junior grows up.

But overall the relentless pace and the tremendous intrigue only add to a sense that the entire main cast is somehow underused. There’s also a play for a third movie in the ending and while non-American blockbusters are only to be encouraged, Mr. Bourboulon would do well to remember the musketeers’ famous motto and keep his cast more unified next time. Not even the literally barnstorming final sequence – a vicious swordfight in a burning barn, complete with horses on fire – ties this together.

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