THE THREE MUSKETEERS: PART II – MILADY (Les trois mousquetaires: Milady)

Producer: Dimitri Rassam   Director: Martin Bourboulon   Screenplay: Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière   Cast: François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris, Pio Marmaï, Eva Green, Louis Garrel, Vicky Krieps, Lyna Khoudri, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Éric Ruf, Marc Barbé, Patrick Mille, Julien Frison, Ralph Amoussou, Camille Rutherford, Ivan Franek, Gabriel Almaer, Thibault Vinçon, Ruben da Silva and Alexis Michalik     Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Grade: B

Every screen version of Dumas’ classic 1844 adventure novel makes changes to the story, and this two-part adaptation by scripters Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière and director Martin Bourboulon is no exception.  Yet overall it’s more faithful than most, and rather than lightening the tone of the swashbuckler set in the seventeenth-century French religious as most of the others have done, it actually darkens the mood, both visually and emotionally.  The result might not satisfy purists, but on its own terms it works well.

This second installment begins where the first left off, with an attempted assassination of King Louis XIII (Louis Garrel) foiled and Constance (Lyna Khoudri) abducted despite the attempt of D’Artagnan (François Civil) to prevent her being taken.  When D’Artagnan forces the Count of Chalais (Patrick Mille), head of the Catholic League, to take him to a dungeon where he hopes to find Constance, he instead finds Milady de Winter (Eva Green), whom he had confronted in England in the previous installment, in chains; they escape together, and have an amorous night in the forest before she departs, only to reappear periodically as the narrative proceeds—thus the subtitle.

Meanwhile Louis announces his intention to attack the rebel stronghold at La Rochelle, bestowing the command on his brother Gaston, Duke of Orléans (Julien Frison). Athos (Vincent Cassel) goes to do battle there after visiting his young son Joseph (Ruben da Silva), taking his leave after they visit the grave of the boy’s mother together.  D’Artagnan, Porthos (Pio Marmaï) and Aramis (Romain Duris) proceed to the city as well, and so does Milady, who’s revealed as the wife that Athos had thought dead—Joseph’s mother—and an agent in the employ of Cardinal Richelieu (Éric Ruf), who orders her to assassinate the Duke of Buckingham (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), an ally of the French Protestants, and—as the first film showed—the lover of Louis’ queen, Anne (Vicky Krieps).

Much of the action in “Milady” centers on the siege at La Rochelle, where betrayals by conspirators must be foiled with the help of Prince Hannibal (Ralph Amoussou) and attempts by Buckingham to resupply the Protestants by sea must be disrupted.  But the scene changes at one point to England, where the Queen has sent Constance to remain under the Duke’s protection even as Milady arrives there to kill him; after her plan fails, she persuades the naïve young woman to assist her escape, with disastrous consequences.

Time is also made for family business.  Athos is, of course, concerned about the return of Milady to his life and that of his son; but he must also deal with his brother Benjamin (Gabriel Almaer), a Protestant rebel who rescued him when he was in peril of execution.  Benjamin is captured, along with a comrade, by Gaston, and sentenced to death by drowning.  Athos, with the help of his friends, must save him, despite the danger doing so poses.  Meanwhile Aramis is called upon to avenge the dishonor done to his sister Mathilde (Camille Rutherford) when she becomes pregnant by a soldier (Alexis Michalik) who declines to make an honest woman of her, leaving her to take the veil.  That problem is resolved by tweaking Dumas’ projected futures for both Aramis and Porthos, and Mathilde as well, in an amusing fashion. 

There’s also another trial to contend with—that of Captain Tréville (Marc Barbé)—along with the eventual unmasking of the true villain of the piece, whose identity is frankly made obvious early on.  As in the book, D’Artagnan ends up with his original dream of becoming a musketeer fulfilled, although its achievement is marred by a sad loss along the way.  

Though she disappears for considerable stretches from the plot, Milady’s role here, as the title indicates, is substantial, and the makers make a major change in her fate, which perhaps unwisely leaves open the possibility of a sequel involving her and Athos.  Nonetheless it has to be admitted that Green seizes every opportunity the part provides her with, embracing the sinister yet seductive woman’s cunning to the hilt, as well as the chance to challenge Civil’s D’Artagnan in swordsmanship as well as trying to draw him into a romantic entanglement.  As in the first film, the rest of the cast is equally capable, making for an ensemble that’s excellent across the board; standouts are Civil, as the eager, passionate D’Artagnan, Cassel as the morose, world-weary Athos and Frison as the smarmy Gaston.

Though “Milady” isn’t as stuffed with rain and mud as its predecessor, it doesn’t beautiful the seventeenth-century milieu, although the interiors provided by production designer Stéphane Taillasson are once again elaborate and Thierry Delettre’s costumes extravagant.  This is essentially a dark, somber film in mood—much more so than many previous versions of the story on screen. 

It’s also impressive from the purely physical perspective.  The cast and filmmakers pull off some remarkably vivid action moments, which, though undoubtedly utilizing trickery, look uncannily real; one of D’Artagnan’s early escapes, in which the camera follows him as he jumps from a castle’s high walls into a river below without any obvious cuts, shows how much more satisfying actual human stunt work is than the CGI bombast that afflicted, for example, Paul W.S. Anderson’s misguided 2011 “Musketeers.”  Kudos to cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc and editor Stan Collet, as well as to Guillaume Roussel for his exciting score, even if Bolduc’s penchant for shots of the musketeers riding their steeds through the countryside against the horizon (or sometimes from the sky above) is sometimes taken to an extreme.  

In all, a solid conclusion to the fine 2023 “D’Artagnan”—or, given the ending, perhaps the second chapter of an eventual trilogy.