At moments the dark edges of Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers threaten to overwhelm its sequel. Here first seen working to quell a Huguenot rebellion, the musketeers recognize the absurdity of the conflict, but driven by duty and the love of action more than principle, they proceed to take part in the suppression anyway. Eventually the appearance of recognizable villains -- Heston, Dunaway and Lee -- puts the ambiguity to rest and allows Lester to bring on the slapstick -- albeit slapstick tempered with a bit more tragic potential than before. For all the lighthearted action, Lester has a keen sense of how ugly violence can be, a strand of his work that runs from How I Won the War through this film and on to the underrated elegiac swashbuckler Robin and Marian. It's a theme confined mostly to the background here, but its presence remains strong enough to set The Four Musketeers apart from its more lighthearted predecessor. Having fostered love for his merry soldiers, Lester now feels a need, perhaps a little too late, to make his audience confront the shadier aspects of their exploits.