The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

star2 star1

Director: Stephen Norrington

Writers: Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill (comic books), & James Dale Robinson (screenplay)

Main Cast:
Sean Connery - Allan Quatermain
Naseeruddin Shah - Captain Nemo
Peta Wilson - Mina Harker
Tony Curran - Rodney Skinner (The Invisible Man)
Stuart Townsend - Dorian Gray
Shane West - Tom Sawyer
Jason Flemyng - Dr. Henry Jekyll and/or Mr. Hyde
Richard Roxburgh - M
Max Ryan - Dante
Tom Goodman-Hill - Sanderson Reed
David Hemmings (I) - Nigel
Terry O'Neill (I) - Ishmael

Rating: PG-13

Year of Release: 2003 

To sum up: Connery is a cantankerous old geezer, Alan Quatermain, brought to England to lead a who's who in English literature to fight evil. Part of the fun is seeing Sean answer to a boss named M again.


“You're sweet and young. Neither trait I hold in high regard.”



     It's a sad thing when one loves adventure films and discovers that the crop of action movies for the summer of 2003 have been, for the most part, disappointing. You become desperate...hoping for something new - not perfection, just something that isn't dull. So it was with great trepidation that I plunked down cash to see "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" the latest film to display Hollywood's originality be being based on a comic book.

     The League, or LXG if you're cool, hip, or trendy (can't be bothered with too many words you know), is a group of famous figures from classic literature. They've been recruited by a figure known as M (Richard Roxburgh) to stop an evil man from starting a "World War," and, by starting that war, cornering the weapons market with early versions of submarines, armor suits, and the type of tanks that will eventually come to pester Indiana Jones when he later embarks on his "Last Crusade" (which is interesting, since both films have Sean Connery in them).

     This League consists of a burned out Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) and his high tech toys, including a Rolls Royce and the worlds most famous submarine, The Nautilus. There's a rather obnoxious Invisible Man (Tony Curran) and the "sexy and elegant" Dorian Grey, who achieves immortality by keeping a painting of himself in which the image ages instead of him. The catch is that if he ever looks at the image, he, himself, will age and die (memo to Dorian: at least learn to close your eyes). Dorian shares a romantic past with Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the League's only woman and literally a vamp thanks to count Dracula. What this group needs is a theme song at least as good as "Gilligan's Island". Making up the "and the rest" portion of the group, we have Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), and American Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West).

     It's a large group of people, each with his or her own little story and character traits that need developed. Sean's lost his son and his love for adventure. He comes back to England when his beloved Africa is threatened and forms a sort of father/son bond with young Sawyer. But rather than have a flashback of Sean losing his son, rather than draw the audience in with the immediacy of the moment and the pain of his loss, Sean's son merely gets conversational mention from a few people.

     Other characterization gets a quick nod here and there. As mentioned, Dorian and Mina share a romantic past. There are comments of rekindling the romance but what happened originally and how it ended is a little Gray. Poor Dr. Jekyll has a psychological debate with his other half, especially if there's a mirror around. The Invisible Man gets no respect and is always the suspect of being the "traitor" that these groups must always have.

     On top of all that there are the conflicts of being part of the League and the bonding of the characters to stick things through when that Fellowship - oops sorry - League is about to be broken. The movie throws a lot out there and but isn't really interested in dealing with any of it.

     As a result, when the bad guy taunts Quatermain about the death of his son (Movie Bad Guy Behavioral Rule # 7), there's really no reason to care. As a result, when there is a character bonding that is supposed to be meaningful, there's not enough character conflict built into the situation so that said bond really means something. As a result, when the League decides to stick things out and form a circle and pile their hands together in a cornball echo of a football team, again there is not enough character conflict built into the situation so that it really means something.

     Sure I know that this is supposed to be an action film but if you put all this character stuff out there, it needs to be dealt with adequately or else the film will suffer.

     On the plus side, there are some interesting visuals. The Invisible Man looks completely believable as, well, an invisible man. Also of visual interest is the impressive appearance of Nemo's sub, the Nautilus, as it rises out of the water and dwarfs our heroes. Although watching it go through the canals of Venice (that's right!), one has to wonder how this thing corners.

     Sadly, not all of the visuals are up to snuff. Some exteriors look like flat matte paintings, which I guess is impressive since they were done on a computer. The appearance of Mr. Hyde, with his small head and tiny legs inside a big rubber-armed costume, just looks painfully silly.

     The action is visually ok although nothing really unique or interesting is presented. Much of it veers into the ridiculous. The sight of Tom Sawyer driving Nemo's car through Venice so that a missile can strike it and collapse some buildings to prevent the rest of them from falling like dominoes is waaay over the top.  Thankfully there is no silly "Matrix" inspired wire-work, although Captain Nemo has clearly learned to fight in Hong Kong. With Nemo and Quatermain especially, the film suffers from the "Insert Stunt Double Here" syndrome as it is obvious when those doubles are doing the fighting.

     What we have is a film with a potentially interesting premise that doesn't quite make it in the execution. It's a cross between high end action and 1940's movie serial cheesiness.

     Extraordinary gentlemen. Ordinary movie.


(Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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