The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Bold. Brash. Bobbins.

Released in 2003, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 10 Nov 2003 by Scott Morris
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It's taken us a while to work up the enthusiasm to see the latest in a never ending and increasingly tiresome line of comic book adaptations and the overwhelming slew of negative notices didn't help matters any. While I generally take a perverse pleasure in thinking the opposite of what everyone else does in this instance I'll have to fall in line with the sheepish herd and declare this a very poor film indeed.

Allan Quatermain (Connery. Sean Connery), the legendary hunter, adventurer and spiritual father of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, not appearing in this film) is called upon by Her Majesty's Government (A Bunch Of Clowns) to prevent a diabolical scheme by the diabolical Fantom (A Spoiler) who is diabolically manufacturing diabolically advanced arms and using them, diabolically, to trick countries into thinking they are being attacked by other nations, thus hoping to precipitate a World War. How diabolical. Such a war would be a license to print money for the Fantom, but would be sub-optimal for, well, anyone else. Despite a few misgivings caused by a previous government backed adventure going tits up and claiming the life of his son an assassination attempt by the Fantom's armoured troops is enough to convince Quatermain to lead the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen against this foe.

His cadre consists of gentleman thief and invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tom Curran), Captain 'Kung-Fu, advanced machines and recovering pirateoholic' Nemo (Bollywood veteran Naseeruddin Shah), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), who's so totally a vampire, Jekyll and Hyde (Jason Flemyng) and seemingly immortal foppish gadabout Dorien Gray (Stuart Townsend). Gray has a Portrait, the likeness on which ages although he does not unless he should ever break the magic spell by looking at it. And he's impervious to everything. In related news, Wilde spins in his grave. Token yank special agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West) joins them, just because.

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They head off to Venice to stop Fantom blowing it up by blowing a bit of it up, then take out the Fantom's secret fortress / weapons facility and dealing with some evil chaps who've copied their distinguishing abilities along the way. I love action movies for no other reason than the plots are always so easy to condense.

I remember respected critic Roger Ebert ranting about this film because of its wholly unrealistic portrayal of Venice, which seems limiting given the sheer number of daft things that could be ranted on. It set its stall out early, a government mandarin proclaiming that Fantom's armoured troops are indestructible. As Quatermain sagely points out, they're just armoured. The story is set in 1899 and even giving it a little leeway Nemo's gargantuan ship / submarine and his nifty car are as preposterous as Fantom's tank that would give today's Abrams a run for it's money. Silliness abounds but unfortunately it's not quite the charming, quaint, anachronistic kind of silly that I presume they were shooting for. They end up hitting the brash, primary coloured, look-at-me-I'm-a-moron brand of silly that's at best irritating. As Quatermain sagely points out, "I'm waiting to be impressed".

It stumbles through it's tale doing more wrong than it does right. Taken out of context the CG used to create the monstrously daft looking Mr Hyde from the mild mannered Dr Jekyll looks absurd and it looks no less absurd when placed in context. Captain Nemo may be a scientific genius but his taste for marble pillars inside his submarine seems absurd. The Invisible Man effect is fairly well realised but even it can't resist the urge to be cute. Skinner drinks a spot of port and we see the liquid coat the inside of his gullet. Very nice, but why isn't the rest of his digested food and drink visible in his bowels? Perhaps there's just enough crap on screen already.

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It's not a terribly involving action movie not due to any real technical flaws. Director Norrington keeps things moving along briskly enough albeit with a few too many sudden location jumps than is healthy in a movie. The real flaw lies in the characters' dynamics which are sadly lacking. Jekyll's struggle with his darker Hyde persona is clumsily and lazily realised. The father / son bonding and baton passing of Sawyer and Quatermain has little in the way of warmth. The supposed intrigue as to a traitor in their midst is a decent idea but needed to be far less obvious and more tightly integrated with the rest of the tale, coming across in it's current state as something for the characters to do to while away the time between the films two big set-pieces.

Of the relationships on display it's only Dorian Gray and Mina Harker who have any connection, the former lovers who never quite get round to telling the rest of us what happened but it's obvious that they still remember. Some credit must go to Stuart Townsend as Gray's effeminate manner could have become overly tiring especially in the face of little to no intelligent scriptwriting to back it up, but there's just enough charisma on display to stop you trying to gouge your eyes out every time he appears. Overall the translation of Alan Moore's opus is lacking, with a distinct absence of sparking wit, or wit of any description. When the funniest line in the best movie is a random old chap's reply to Quatermain's aghast query at 'who in God's name has automatic rifles' that it is indeed 'Dashed unsporting.. probably Belgians!' there's trouble afoot.

The League..'s problem is not so much that it's a bad film as it is a bland film. It's all just a loosely connected series of explosions that never connects with any soul or heart. There's nothing unique, odd given the nature of its protagonists. With a few minor structural changes and some better gags this could have been a pretty decent film. As it stands it's an eminently forgettable waste of time, money and effort. It's a sad waste of what is generally considered one of the more intelligent and adult oriented comics, but it loses far too much of its edge when chopped down for a PG audience.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.

Stephen Norrington
Cast list:
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 aka Mr. Edward Hyde)
Richard Roxburgh (M)