Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films
by Joshua Polanski Featured Film Genre Views

The Three Musketeers: Part II – Milady — Martin Bourboulon

April 16, 2024

A specter is haunting cinema — that of commercial modernity. The media powers of the hyper-modern world, unlike the institutions of Old Europe with Karl Marx’s famed specter of communism, have come together not to exorcise but embrace this specter in a warm hug and to give it a sweet kiss. The mutual seduction between the centers of Western film production and the commercial industry wraps with a business handshake assuring a diversification of assets and a strong general ROI. Most importantly, after the bedded ritual concludes, the filmmaking centers promise one thing and one thing only: an endless supply of “entertaining” content. In this, The Three Musketeers: Part II – Milady, the consumerist title of the second entry in French director Martin Bourboulon’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ ubiquitous text, is not unique. Nor will any of the series’ two television spin-offs with Disney be anything unique or exceptional in the era of commercialized art.

In 1967, the Christian author and publisher Charles E. Hummel coined the phrase “tyranny of the urgent” to describe the way modern life — through the institutions of capitalism and imperialism, though he likely wouldn’t admit that — re-orients our schedules and priorities to be perpetually engaged in the maintenant. The new The Three Musketeers series responds to Hummel’s aphorism of social criticism with a “isn’t that fucking great?” It’s not great. Milady, much like Part I – D’Artagnan, loots its own potential of bringing Dumas to the present with an uninspired vision of the book as corporate property. And no, the bisexual Porthos (Pio Marmaï) is not the problem.

Milady picks up not where D’Artagnan left off, but with an anime-style summary recap of the first film to ensure all barriers to entry (i.e. sale) are erased and anyone can purchase a ticket or click “rent” on Apple TV+ in a few months. D’Artagnan (François Civil), the fourth of the three musketeers, seeks his missing lover, Constance, played by the Algerian-French actress Lyna Khoudri (in one of the pleasant modernizing touches to the adaptation), who was taken captive at the end of the first film. (Dumas himself was of mixed Haitian-French heritage, and the casting choice, as such, feels in touch with the author’s legacy in a way previous castings have not.) Deception, double-crossing, and complicated personal histories force the musketeers to arm up for Louis XIII (Louis Garrel) against the Protestants of La Rochelle. Everything expected of the big stories can be found in this very big story: love triangles, sword fights, high-speed plot developments that repeat their catalysts in case you miss it, and, because it’s a French rather than American blockbuster, seduction. The saga “concludes” much like a Marvel film, as In Review Online’s Joshua Peinado noted in his review of the first film, with an end credits interlude that begs the viewer to not forget the series as they exit the theater and dump the shitty stale remnants of unseasoned popcorn left at the bottom of the bucket. “Please come back for more, please.”

Speaking of the film’s end, the oldest musketeer, Athos (Vincent Cassel), tells the youngest, D’Artagnan, as if age effaces rather than refines emotional capacity and control, “Truly, I wish I could cry like you.” Perhaps it’s a holdover from the romanticization of youth from Dumas’ own period. Bourboulon leaves enough room to interpret otherwise, though. The quote, coming at the very end of the film after both of the men share in womanly troubles, ensnares in dialogue the film’s own obsession with uber-entertainmentification. Milady moves with rapidity and clenched fists from one event to another with no time to meander properly or to sit with the basic consequences, like mourning the dead, of the film’s action.

The sword fights are a mess, and the seduction scenes are hurried, as if working through a corporate algorithmic checklist of must-haves. Constance and any emotion we are supposed to feel for her are reduced to memories from the first film. Even the most interesting scenes, like the moat-dive or the court appearance, have no time to make any memorable images. The script sidelines relational development and political intrigue for action excess. The action does work about as well as it did in the first film — perhaps that’s a good thing for you, perhaps not — and the handheld camera eventually tires with every subsequent fight. This second entry does make some improvements in including more women-led action and interesting location backdrops, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that the actors look stuck between performing action scenes and already moving to the next one. And that’s a shame, too, since the cast of The Three Musketeers features some of the best-looking and highly talented group of actors working in Francophone Europe and beyond. Romain Duris and Vicky Krieps feel the most stunted in execution, but even Eva Green, who plays the titular Milady de Winter, could be trusted with more than what’s ultimately a one-note performance as a sexy danger to the unity of France. Still, in fairness, she’s damned good at the mysterious seductress with a dagger.

Porthos and Aramis (Duris) mostly show up through a meaty side-plot with the nun Mathilde d’Herblay (Camille Rutherford), the pregnant sister of Aramis, but even this lacks any urgency beyond the moment. When Aramis hears that a soldier impregnated her, he jumps with aggressive haste and impudence to rectify the situation. Bourboulon’s Aramis retains the old ideas of virginal womanhood and the protective role of the masculine figure after jettisoning the patience of relationship-building and elsewise that takes place in any Romantic novel. The side-plot’s self-noted urgency helps to rid the section of one of the very purposes of secondary and tertiary stories within a larger one: to create greater import. Then again, without them, there would only be two of the four three musketeers.

DIRECTOR: Martin Bourboulon;  CAST: Eva Green, François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris, Pio Marmaï;  DISTRIBUTOR: Samuel Goldwyn Films;  IN THEATERS: April 19;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 54 min.