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The Man in the Iron Mask is a 1998 film adaptation of The Vicomte De Bragelonne (1847-1850) by Alexandre Dumas. The original serial novel was a sequel to The Three Musketeers. The film was the first directed by Randall Wallace, previously known for writing Braveheart. The main stars were Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Gerard Depardieu and Anne Parillaud.
The year is 1662. Gone are Cardinal Richelieu (died 1642) and Louis XIII of France (died 1643). France is ruled by Louis XIV (DiCaprio), son of his predecessor. He is a militarist who is already bankrupting the country with unpopular wars. Privately, Louis follows a hedonistic lifestyle and keeps many mistresses. Meanwhile, the peasants of Paris are starving and a food riot begins. Louis XIV commands one of his advisors to send rotten food to the rioters. The riot stops, the people get sick and the advisor is executed for "his" crime.
So, what has happened to the Musketeers? Aramis (Irons), Athos (Malkovich) and Porthos (Depardieu) have retired from service. Aramis is now a Jesuit priest. Porthos spends much of his free time frequenting brothels. Athos has become a single father. His son Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard) currently serves in the French Army. Only D'Artagnan (Byrne) is still in the service of the King. However their peaceful life ends abruptly. Raoul is about to marry Christine (Judith Godreche), a woman who Louis wants to add to his mistresses, so Louis gets Raoul killed in an Uriah Gambit, leaving Louis free to seduce Christine. Louis also orders the assassination of whoever is the secret leader of the French Jesuits, which happens to be Aramis. Now both Aramis and Athos have reasons to hate Louis. They recruit Porthos in a plot against Louis.
Aramis is aware that Louis has a twin brother. Said brother Philippe (DiCaprio again) is the titular Man in the Iron Mask, kept prisoner to prevent him from claiming the throne. He is gentler and more compassionate than Louis. Their plot involves releasing Philippe and having him impersonate Louis, effectively replacing the King with a new one. They will have to face D'Artagnan, still loyal to Louis. They will also have to learn a secret Anne of Austria (Parillaud), widow of Louis XIII and mother of the boys, has kept for herself.
The film was a box office hit. Its worldwide gross estimated to US$182,968,902. While a great hit in the international market, it fared poorly in the United States one, where it only earned about 57 million and was the 37th most successful film of its year. Even then, it is estimated to have been far more popular with girls and women under 25 years old. Critically it was found lacking, particularly due to major deviations from its source novel and a number of anachronisms.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Many viewers probably laughed at the "anachronistic" fountains on the grounds of the French royal palace. Truth is, not only were they real, but they're also Older Than They Think: the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, (constructed in the 14th century) has fountains powered not by electricity, but by gravity, with an aqueduct that brings water from the uphill Darro river.
- Alternate History: What the events leading up to the ending ultimately suggest.
- Anachronism Stew: Part of the action takes place in the Palace of Versailles. While the palace construction did start in 1661, the initial building phase finished in 1664. That means that it is way too early for the King to move in.
- Briar Patching: Philippe does some impromptu and rather inspired Briar Patching after he's been recaptured, begging his Jerkass brother to kill him rather than put him back in prison. With predictable results. When Athos, Porthos and Aramis arrive to rescue Philippe, he's ready and waiting for them rather than being the emotional wreck they were expecting. When asked, he just reminds them that "I wear the mask, it does not wear me."
- Appropriately Louis does have a complete mental breakdown after he is forced to wear the mask.
- Bungled Suicide: At some point, Porthos gets depressed and believes he has nothing to go on living for. He kisses the tavern girls goodbye and goes into the barn to hang himself. Naked. We hear a big thud, and Porthos swearing. Aramis knew Porthos would try to commit suicide and sawed through the beam.
- Then the barn collapsed on Porthos, since Aramis sawed the wrong beam.
Aramis: I'm a genius, not an engineer!
- The Cavalier Years: Obviously.
- Clingy Costume: The titular mask is hard to remove, very much by design.
- Dawson Casting: Averted. Louis XIV was 24 years old in 1662. He is played by 24-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio. Reversed in the case of Anne of Austria, who was 61 years old in 1662. She is played by 38-year-old Anne Parillaud.
- Did Not Do the Research: The ending narration says that Louis XIV brought his country and his subjects prosperity and peace. In real life, Louis spent most of his reign with waging wars.
- Possibly They Just Didn't Care.
- it's actually Philippe who was the King who brought his subjects prosperity not Louis, the Man in the Iron Mask is an Alternate Reality where Louis was a twin, and by putting Philippe on the throne averted all that Louis did, which was Aramis' plan all along.
- of course in which case, they have likely averted the French Revolution, and as such many philosphies and political ideologies of today were not created, including the Enlightenment and the French supporting Napoleon's explorations, image a world that Napoleon had not discovered...
- Fake King: Philippe.
- Fake Nationality: The film features an eclectic array of fake Frenchmen. Most notable were Englishman Jeremy Irons as Aramis, Irishman Gabriel Byrne as D'Artagnan, American John Malkovich as Athos, American Peter Sarsgaard as his son, and American Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV, none of whom particularly bothered to disguise their country of origin. This was made particularly noticeable by having an actual Frenchman, Gerard Depardieu, round out the cast. Anne Parillaud, who is a native Parisian, plays Anne of Austria. Who despite her designation was from Spain.
- Famed in Story: The elder Musketeers.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Philippe begs Louis to kill him rather than sending him back to prison.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Oh look, House MD is one of Louis' courtiers!
The Nostalgia Chick: "Well fine, I'm going to play a lovable old curmudgeon on Fox."
- Hired to Hunt Yourself: The Jesuits are actively opposing the king, so he decides to put a man in charge of finding their general and killing him. Of course, he chooses one of his close allies: Aramis, who turns out to be the Jesuit general.
- Hot Mom: Anne of Austria is played by 38-year-old Anne Parillaud. She is better known for playing Nikita.
- I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Aramis: "I'm a genius, not an engineer!"
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: justified because the firing squad were Musketeers and we see them deliberately missing.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: D'Artagnan is the real father of Louis and Philippe.
- Masquerade Ball: Figures prominently in the attempt to replace Louis with Philippe. With the added bonus that the hidden twin had spent his entire life wearing a heavy iron mask, which he flashes to the king from under the decorative gold one to freak him out.
- Meaningless Meaningful Words: In reply to a perfectly sensible lament of Queen Anne, Aramis came out with a memorable bit of important-sounding nonsense.
Anne: "I have raised a son who destroys lives instead of saving them, and I have failed to save a son who died within an iron mask.
Aramis: "No! That mask was Louis' creation. Now we have a chance to make a miracle. To strip all masks away forever."
- Considering the extent of his plan is to replace the nasty-creep brother on the throne with his nice-guy brother, that last statement makes absolutely no sense.
- Melancholy Moon: Shortly after his first escape from prison, Philippe is unable to sleep and spends time gazing at the full moon. Not only is overcome by the beauty of the moon he had been unable to fully witness while in prison, but he's also burdened by the sheer weight of responsibility and expectations demanded of him by his rescuers.
- My Master, Right or Wrong: D'Artagnan is blindly loyal to Louis, despite his evil and capricious nature, because he is Louis' father. Eventually he comes around to the other musketeers' viewpoint that he must go, when he learns that their look-alike for the king is Louis' twin brother. Thus another son of his.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The character of "Christine" is supposed to be a historical figure: Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710), the chief mistress of Louis XIV of France from 1661 to 1667. The character is clearly identified in the novel but renamed in the film.
- Probably, the scriptwriters thought that having a relationship between characters named Louis and Louise would be too confusing for the viewers.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Some characters sport Just a Stupid Accent with more or less success, while Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't seem to even try while playing the King of France. Gerard Depardieu's actual French accent puts the lie to everyone else, though.
- Papa Wolf: Athos, leading to his attempted Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Person with the Clothing
- Playing Against Type: Leo as the utterly despicable and possibly psychopathic Louis.
- Sanctuary of Solitude: Anne of Austria does this.
- Shout-Out: The young lovers Raoul and Christine are named after the main characters of The Phantom of the Opera.
- Still Wearing the Old Colors: At the climax, the musketeers don their old uniforms to demonstrate loyalty to a higher, older, and more principled calling as they rise in rebellion to depose the king and replace him with his twin brother.
- Swashbuckler: With the Musketeers involved, this was hardly a surprise.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: D'Artagnan uses this move.
- The Uriah Gambit: King Louis XIV, upon finding out that one of the women he desires is already engaged to a soldier, sends him to the front lines to die in battle. Though the plan succeeds, it also backfires since the soldier also happened to be the son of one of the legendary Three Musketeers.
- Not to mention that the woman he planned to seduce figures out his plot and decides to commit suicide rather than live with him.
- Weird Moon: Just after he's been freed from the prison for the first time, Philippe can't sleep and ends up at the window gazing at the full moon that he had struggled to hard to see while in prison. The moon is huge. Doubles as a Melancholy Moon given the poignancy of the emotions in the scene.