First of all, THAT is an awesome poster. Nobody makes movie posters like that anymore.
Second of all, HUGE shout out to JD, who told me to watch this film (and its sequel, The Four Musketeers). They were every bit as awesome as you said they would be.
The Three Musketeers is one of the classic stories of male coming-of-age. As Steph observed, the male coming-of-age story is a violent one, and is even more violent when it's presented in a metaphorical context as in Dumas.
We watched the David Mamet martial arts film Redbelt and my issue with it was that it spend most of its life as a gritty, realistic, decidedly NOT metaphorical story, and then at the very last minute tried to resolve itself as a pulpy metaphorical story. Which doesn't work.
Because the pulp adventure story is always metaphorical. We all understand that bloodshed, violence and warfare are horrible, traumatizing things. We don't actually want to be the kind of people who just run around randomly murdering folks, and yet we sure have a good time watching imaginary people doing just that.
The pulp story has useful wisdom for us, even it doesn't present a realistic view of the world or human nature. Pulp stories are our modern myths, the stories we need to tell us truths that cannot be explained or rationalized. Because no matter how smart we are, we must recognize that there are truths, important truths, that we cannot put into words. That's what art is for -- to tell us what we know, but cannot say.
The Three Musketeers tells us things about companionship, and loyalty, but mostly, this time through, I was struck by what it has to say about violence. d'Artagnan is told by his father as he sets out, "Get into as many fights as you can."
Times have changed. Folks nowadays are, I think, less likely to give this sort of advice to their children. Now, Dumas is almost certainly being comic here as he is throughout, but d'Artagnan does live in a world where the cheerful exercise of violent death is just part of being a well-rounded human being.
Well, except for Constance (speaking of well-rounded), but look where that gets her.
It's in the ending that Dumas displays the most sophisticated thinking -- and where he pulls aside a bit of the comic veil he's cast over all the antics up to now. Milady's ending is not comic at all, nor is it entirely... satisfying. There's something bloodthirsty and troubling about this whole affair, and I suspect most people in the audience sympathize with d'Artagnan's desire to interfere. Things get serious suddenly, and I believe Dumas intends for his audience to suddenly wonder about these charming rogues they've been following around up to now.
It was interesting watching the film with Steph, who didn't know the story. She was cheering for Milady throughout much of the film, and hoping that things would work out so that she and Athos could get back together. She rightfully points out that Milady is the only female character with any power of her own (which makes her eventual fate so utterly unsurprising), and yet by the end there's no question that she deserves what she gets.
But Dumas (and the film-makers in this version), do not allow the audience to distance themselves this time from the horror of death and the lack of humanity that must exist those who deal it out. Indeed the character of the headsman, who ultimately performs the deed, seems to exist in part to illustrate the cruelty of those who condemn the woman. As cold and uncaring as the headsman may be, he horrifies us less than Athos in those final moments, when he is ready to kill d'Artagnan should the young man interfere.
Dumas does the opposite in The Three Musketeers that Mamet does in Redbelt; he takes a metaphorical story and at the very end makes it literal and specific. It's a very difficult trick, but Dumas pulls it off beautifully. And the best thing I can say about this fantastic version of the story is that the film-makers appear to have understood it and reproduced it faithfully.