The Scoop: 2003 PG-13, directed by Stephen Norrington and starring Sean Connery, Peta Wilson and Stuart Townsend
Tagline: Prepare for the Extraordinary
Summary Capsule: Victorian superheroes fight for truth, chastity belts, and choppy editing.
Justin’s Rating: No matter what anyone tells you, being sandwiched in a movie theater between two hairy Canucks is not the dream it sounds
Justin’s Review: Oh my, oh my, oh mercy me, where does one begin. I suppose one begins in a dark movie theater, where three movie-savvy guys are about halfway through a film that’s already exhausted about two films’ worth of patience. As your eyes are locked on a muddled and slapdash spectacle, there’s only one inevitability; a laugh escapes. Then another. Then hoots, hollers, cackles, giggles, shrieks, guffaws, whoops, titters, and unabashed hysteria. Suddenly, the film has gone from being a low-level torture to something quite tolerable. Ah, we do like it when we feel superior to what’s on screen!
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is perfect summer fare, if only to remind us that it’s still quite okay to mock and taunt big-budget spectacles. How this differs from your typical train wreck (that dastardly caboose, always mucking things up!) is that League starts out with several promising cards in its deck, and we’re fully prepared to believe its bluff. Card metaphors. It’s good stuff.
The League begins with one of the coolest dissolves into the steampunk world of pseudo-Victorian London, circa 1899. With bad guys running amock, using their too-hot-for-TV technology to stump the Bobbies, I suddenly get a brief but potent flashback to Wild, Wild West. When villains in the world are up to… um… something (the movie is never quite clear on what the bad guy’s main threat or reasoning behind that plan is or why they change plans at least twice in the course of the plot), it’s time for a group to stop them, a group composed of several out-of-work literary characters. And, oh heck, let’s just make up some more while we’re at it.
We have Allan Quartermain (Sean “Some things in here don’t react well to bullets” Connery), a British-African adventurer with a two-second backstory; the sequel to the Invisible Man (cool special effects, but not enough of him); Dracula’s Bride (!?); a Kali-worshiping, dual sword-wielding Captain Nemo and his “obviously really not compensating for anything” five mile-long sub; the invincible Dorian Gray; Dr. Jekyll and his Gollum/Hulk alter-ego; and (why not, since none of this makes any sense) Tom Sawyer as a Secret Service agent. Trust me, all of these guys sound way more interesting than how they’re introduced on screen, as they are cobbled together from patchworked scenes and stunted dialogue.
I fantasize. “Oh, hey, why stop recruitment there? It’s Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights! Poe brings his omniscient tell-tale heart! Uncle Tom and his crime-fighting cabin to the rescue!”
Maybe this would have been a good, even excellent, movie, except that it got selected as the national lotto winner for questionable decisions. Such as having the incredibly long Nautilus sail into the teeny Venetian canals, where one wonders how it can turn down the streets. Or fail to give any of the characters real personality or backstory until the script gets to a point where it’s absolutely necessary to proceed forward. Or barely masking advanced 20th century technology by just making it a bit more bulky and metal-y. Or assigning the lead to an excellent actor who is currently in an age range that promotes itself more to zipping around on those geriatric electric scooters instead of being a full-fledged action hero with plenty of stunt scenes.
As much as I love Shawn Connery, you can see the film making numerous exceptions to work around his age. Every running scene — and I do mean every last one — shows no more than two-point-five seconds of Connery chugging along before a cut. At that point, you know a stagehand with a respirator dashes up to him and attempts revival. There’s a completely ridiculous scene where Quartermain leaps out of a speeding automobile (movie heroes have little time to bother with road safety) and the next cut shows his feet landing softly on the pavement with no forward momentum, no stumbling, nothing. It would’ve been the same if Quartermain jumped down from a foot-high stool for all the movie editing cares.
Speaking of editing, I sincerely hope you’re not expecting anything more than a Battlefield Earth skill level, because this is no Braveheart, baby. The camera tilts and whirls around during action scenes, randomly choosing who to focus on until the audience has no idea who is where and doing what. Scenes are extremely poorly paced, with plenty of awkward, I-don’t-know-you-people pauses to pass the time. Oh sure, there is some lame attempt at creating awe for each of these so-called legends, but it rarely is more than a brief throwaway clip here and there before the director gets bored and wants to confuse the audience some more.
What is there else to say? Plenty, if we want to pick nits all day. Why not mention the noticeable and very flat matte paintings that give “old” London all the depth of a third grader’s diorama. I direct your attention to the fact that the EXACT SAME street design is shown twice in the film, once for London and once for Venice (both have high-up bridges crossing the street, only with Venice, the street is water). And we haven’t even briefly touched on the plague of ridiculousness that spreads across the end of the film, when the heroes infiltrate a second-rate James Bond villain fortress. Here we find advanced cloning techniques, a flamethrower dude in a giant metal suit, some of the worst one-liners that riddle all of movie history (“How many times must I kill these people!” is a personal favorite), a bad guy with a surprise revelation that makes no impact whatsoever, and the old scientists-held-hostage tune we’ve been hearing for many a year.
Really, it becomes either a film that will torment you for the “what could have been” to the edge of sanity, or it turns into a flick that is perfect mocking material, with scenes here and there that actually achieve watchability. Stay tuned for the sequel, The Squad of Bodacious Noblemen, starring Paul Newman as Henry VIII.
[If you've gotten to the end of this review without sending me an irate e-mail correcting the spelling of "Quatermain", then I tip my hat to ye. You're not as anal as everyone says.]
PoolMan’s Rating: At least they had enough modesty to not rename it to “League of Xtreeeeeme Gentlemen”!
PoolMan’s Review: Every time I sit down and start thinking about the now-infamous LXG (‘X’ being quite the unusually popular letter to show up in acronyms these days, despite the fact that almost no words actually start with it), I get a little tap-tap-tapping at my chamber door. This tends to grow into a headache, and a then a migraine, and next thing I know, my brains have painted the room around me. This movie makes no sense. Like, “Hudson Hawk No Sense”, but without the redeeming sense of fun or the cute little Italian webmaster next to you, urging you to love it.
I’d been saying, ever since the first trailer for League dropped, that almost nothing about it excited me. “Oh huzzah, an action film featuring a baffling array of literature characters! And the man in the action lead is older than my grandfather? Dare I risk ANOTHER huzzah?” I watched two minute long trailers, filled to the brim with what you could obviously tell were the money shots of the film (Mr Hyde beating people up? Check. Victorian-era car speeding through stone walls? Check. Invisible Man looking up women’s skirts? Good gracious, check!), and not one moment really interested in me. Yes, this is all based on some legendary comic that I’ve never read, but come on, can we not do better than this poorly-lit mess?
I dare say, the movie has its appeal, exactly as Justin says. It’s magically delicious to mock League. From Quatermain’s leap from the 100 mile an hour car (“Look ma, no broken ankles!”) to what has GOT to be one of the worst one-liners EVER, the whole thing just begs to get taken apart. Darth Madler from the Forum joined Justin and I in our viewing, and quite aptly pointed out that if you’re going to be armed with a flamethrower and set everything around you on fire, perhaps the best outfit to be wearing is NOT the cast iron suit one bad guy sports near the end. For every one moment that managed to be clever (I quite liked Nemo’s first mate introducing himself by saying “Call me Ishmael”), there are a hundred moments featuring some tacked on piece of plot that is barely suitable and never interesting. Look! Nemo worships Kali, God of Death! And yet he comes off as the nicest and most honourable member of the team! My cerebellum has left the building! Honestly, you’re dealing with what should be a fascinating group of fictional characters, each filled with potential back story and in-jokes. We didn’t even get the obvious gag about Tom Sawyer tricking somebody into painting a fence.
The real problem with LXG is this: it’s an ensemble piece that A) spends an inordinate amount of time focused on ONE character (Quatermain) and B) features an ensemble no one could possibly care about. And that’s just the hero side of the equation. The bad guys are even MORE confusing. Their master plan is to copy all the super powers of the League’s members (invisibility, super strength, immortality, having a boat) and sell them as arms around the world. This is AFTER the film takes enormous strides to inform the audience that the bad guys already have weapons technology about 40 years ahead of the rest of the world, and have already proven themselves entirely able to steal an entire bank’s worth of money without breaking a sweat. Oh, and the lead baddie is a turncoat. So is his lieutenant. The last guy in the Axis of Blah seems to just pop out of nowhere, suddenly becoming a threat just in time to get killed at the end. I’m sorry, am I spoiling all this for you? Trust me, you’d figure it out on your own after just a few lines of dialogue. They stopped just shy of the lead bad guy saying something like “Be careful, and don’t trust ANYBODY!” while winking like he had a fire ant in his eye. You’re not missing anything.
I had fun watching this movie, but in the greatest tradition of bad flicks, it’s only because I got such a great chance to practise my Tom Servo impression. You know how when you’re in a theater, and you whisper to someone else some smartass remark, but hope nobody else hears you? No such guilt existed here, my friends. The audience was laughing with us, and we didn’t mind at all.
You may laugh, you might cry. And if you’re anything like Kyle, you’ll start to weep uncontrollably when you see what the most legendary Bond’s career has become. Write this one off. Please.
Lissa’s Rating: Y’know, scientists are rarely actually taken hostage. Our lives are much more boring than that.
Lissa’s Review: I’m not much into traditional superheroes. I find Superman a bore and Batman doesn’t do much for me. Not overly crazy about Spider-Man, either. Maybe it’s just that the lack of creativity in their names bugs me, but I don’t think that’s it. I think my problem is I’m not into the lone hero. When I want superhero types, I’m immediately drawn to the Wonder Twins. The League of Justice. And above all, the X-Men.
I think what I love is the group dynamics. I love seeing the deep friendships, the more-than (or other-than) friendships, the rivalries, the people who don’t really like each other… I mean, my favorite dynamic of the X-Men is Cyclops and Wolverine. The more complicated and messy the interpersonal relationships get, the more I like it. So League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should be right up my alley, right?
Well, okay, right. I wanted to see this movie in theaters, and was really put off by the bad reviews. So I didn’t watch it until one night when Duckie was traveling. And there were things about it that I absolutely, positively LOVED. The sets and costumes kind of go unsaid, but I loved the potential dynamics between the group. I loved that none of these people were actually good, and they all had truly dark secrets lingering in their past and threatening their future.
Thing is, I think I would have enjoyed it more in the comic bo— er, graphic novels that the movie was based on.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is about just that: seven figures — most of whom are from literature — who are playing the superhero game and trying to save the world. For some inexplicable reason that I never figured out, they’re led by Allan Quatermain, played by Sean Connery. (For the record, I could just close my eyes and listen to Mr. Connery talk for a while and it would be quite worthwhile.) The other gentlemen include Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) and for some strange reason, Tom Sawyer (Shane West). It’s an interesting group to put together (although I’ve yet to figure out why Tom Sawyer was included), especially since none of these heroes is really all that much of a hero.
Too bad they had to talk.
The plot is pretty basic. Stop the bad guy, stop the World War. Not much more complicated than the Nazis are after the Ark for world domination. So you can’t say such a simplistic plot ruined the movie. But the dialogue… oh, the dialogue….
I’m really not sure there’s much more I can say about that. I really can’t. Besides, Justin and Poolman have said it all. But I do have to put in one dig… since when do deep literary characters all put their hands in the center of a circle? Especially when they’ve been on the verge of killing each other the entire movie?
I do have two special rants though that Poolman and Justin didn’t address, so buckle in.
Mina Harker. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the woman playing her can’t act. (It’s hard, I know.) Let’s ignore that she’s the most annoying character amongst them. The question is, how many men want to, erm, nail her as Dorian put it? Not one, which is fine, not two, which acceptable, but I count at LEAST three. That just goes beyond the bounds and gets nauseating. Especially in a plot that has no place for romantic love and with a character that frankly doesn’t seem all that capable of it.
Fanfiction. That’s really what League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is. It’s one giant cross-over fanfiction. It’s taking other people’s characters and putting them into different situations. Which is fine. I’m the last person in the world who can rant against fanfiction, given the amount of the stuff I’ve written. But rule number one of fanfic is you must keep the characters in character. No one wants to read about (or watch) a Mr. Hyde that’s gone all softie. No one believes in a grown-up Tom Sawyer. Stay with the characters. It works much better.
So much about this movie could have been right, and it was all thrown away. There were things that were good (I really liked Dorian, and the sets were beautiful), but it’s more fun just to pick at everything absolutely wrong with this movie. I tried to counterbalance Justin and Poolman, but the sad truth is they’re RIGHT. So don’t go in expecting brilliance or anything like it, unless it’s coming from your own witty MST3K-style remarks.
Kyle’s Rating: I’m going to give props to a comics madman NOT named Grant Morrison, surprisingly
Kyle’s Review: This movie is awful, just absolutely awful. It is incompetently bad on a level that provides no kind of direct thrills but at least inspired plenty of amusing criticism and potshot jokes — Roger Ebert’s review doubles as a scathing attack on the film’s logic and the creators’ lack of basic geographical knowledge.
On the one hand, I’m sort of glad that the movie turned out so badly, because to those who are “not in the know” and rely mostly on movie posters they pass in shopping malls for background information on film releases, this film being a turgid piece of garbage implies that the ultimate creator of the premise and story, Alan Moore, is a turgid piece of garbage, too! (see, I can do weird, lopsided logic, too!)
Alan Moore isn’t a hack at all, but he is whack, and as far as I’m concerned is nowhere near as “fun” or “relevant” as my main man Grant Morrison. That said: Moore’s writing is extremely solid, literate, and obsessively researched. So the fact that some of his biggest properties are adapted into total crap has to burn anybody who wants comic books to be more respectful, and completely aggravates those of us who believes in the purity of ideas and want to see people’s ideas (especially really, really cool ones) executed with respect and reverence.
Sadly, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen holds no respect or reverence for anything, nor will it ever inspire any in its viewers. Which is sad, since the idea of taking famed literary characters and utilizing and enhancing their characterizations by respectfully combining them in an interesting and logical fashion is an exceptional idea that worked tremendously well on the printed page, under the auspices of Moore’s capable hand. I guess I’m adding my voice to the choir here to take a few more shots at the atrocious movie but also to urge you to not only avoid the film at all costs but also be willing to pick up the comic book source material (both volumes of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are widely available, including your local bookstore with a decent graphic novels section).
And at the same time: stretch your imagination! Imagine your favorite characters from all across pop culture interacting and dating and being friends and comparing love poetry and war strategies and so on! I say this as a creative writer who considers such synergetic exercises extremely therapeutic and inspiring, and as a playwright who received considerable accolades for my short play “Hamlet vs. Iago,” which I acted out puppet-style with a James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) doll (as Hamlet) and a Freddy Kruger action figure (as Iago). Some great stories just pop out of creators fully-formed, and some are pieced together from various sources. I don’t know how Moore wrote the published League, but I do know that it is worth reading. The film adaptation is worthless. Avoid it!
- How do you make a cheesy movie cheezier? Have your main characters stick their hands to the center of a circle, like a basketball rally huddle, and do the whole “go team break!” thing.
- Quatermain’s tiny leap out of the car and his very smooooooth landing
- It’s a good idea to wear a 200 lb. iron suit when you’re toting around a flamethrower
- So how exactly does the evil dude manage to start all that factory production and chemical cloning when they’ve only had the samples for a couple days?
- Everyone should have a vampire lady covering them
- London and Venice have similar looking streets
- Could the witch doctor be a little more… um… subtle? And who wasn’t expecting a hand to shoot out of the ground there?
- Kinda hard to turn that huge-ass boat in the tiny Venetian canals
- If you wait to take a shot, the shot is easier to take… except when the target is getting away from you rapidly, so I guess that maxim doesn’t work
- The fade to the steampunk 20th Century Fox logo (shouldn’t it have been 19th Century Fox?) was cool
- So… when did they land on Hoth? I mean, it IS Hoth, right down to the Rebel uniforms!
- Of all the Indiana Jones rip-offs, way to use the overlapping map with the moving red line there
- When the League is in Paris, the camera passes by a wall with a poster for a carnival that is coming, there are two names: Dr. Alan Moore and Dr. Kevin O’Neill. These are the names of the gentlemen that created and wrote the comic “League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen”.
- The magazine on Quatermain’s desk aboard the Nautilus is “The Strand”. Arthur Conan Doyle originally published the Sherlock Holmes stories in The Strand.
- The spelling “Quatermain” appears in the movie’s credits and promotional material (as well as the original novels and the comic). However, on the grave marker of Quatermain’s son, the name is spelled “Quartermain.”
- What exactly happens to all the chairs on the deck of the Nautilus when it submerges?
- Everyone calls the automobile (remember, it’s 1899 here) a “car”, even though Nemo hasn’t called it that.
- I love the IMDb. They make note that because the movie is clearly fictional, things like Venice’s canals being deep enough to suit the Nautilus and other similar leaps in logic should be disregarded.
- Maarten writes in, “The main part of the movie is set in the summer (July being mentioned when they go to Venice)… Carnival in Venice in July..?? Whee, that’s a bit late, when Venice carnival is traditionally in February, March, or at the very last, in April.”
- Richard Roxburgh who plays Prof. Moriarty, played Sherlock Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles [thanks Star Opal!]
- This is the second movie based on a comic book created by Alan Moore, the first being From Hell. Jason Flemyng has starred in both.
- As was the case with From Hell, another movie based on a comic by Alan Moore, the scenes set in London were filmed in Prague.
- Filming was delayed due to the summer 2002 floods in Prague which destroyed more than $7 million worth of sets.
- The film’s literary characters are Allan Quatermain from H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines” (1885), Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897), Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886), Rodney Skinner replacing Hawley Griffin from H.G. Wells “The Invisible Man” (1897) (due to rights issues), Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1870), Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture Of Dorian Gray” (1891), Tom Sawyer from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer” (1876) and Professor James Moriarty from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem” (1893) and The Phantom’s mask design alludes to Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom Of The Opera” (1911). Also, M is an actual British government designation that was used in the Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” novels starting with “Casino Royale” (1953).
- Quatermain: The vampire lady is covering us! Dr. Henry Jekyll: I’m not going to let him take over again.
Dorian Gray: Then what good are you?
Dorian Gray: The bedroom, Mina, does it give you memories? Or ideas?
Quatermain: If you can’t do it with one bullet, don’t do it at all.
Reed: Have you no patriotism?
Quatermain: [stands up with a drink] God save the Queen!
Club Patrons: [blandly] God save the Queen.
Quatermain: That’s about as much patriotism as this place can muster.
Quatermain: Automatic rifles! Who on earth has automatic rifles?
Club Patron: Damned unsporting! Probably Belgian!
Mina Harker: You’re sweet, and you’re young; neither are traits that I hold in high regard.
Mina Harker: Do you realize what you’ve done? What you’ve let out of me?
Dorian Gray: A woman’s wrath? Oh, I’m petrified.
Dorian Gray: I am an immortal, sir, not a gazelle! How can we outrun this?
Quatermain: You shoot like an American. Fire all the bullets, and hope some of them hit the target.
Dorian Gray: I hoped I’d get to nail you one more time, dear Mina. Didn’t think it’d be literally.
Dorian Gray: Bomb-voyage.
Quatermain: This is Africa, dear boy. Sweating is what we do!
Quatermain: I may have been overly rude, when I called you a pirate…
Captain Nemo: And I may have been overly charitable when I said that I was not… But I prefer to live in the now, Mr. Quatermain, where the ghosts of old wrongs do not thrive.
Nigel: Perhaps I should toddle off sir.
Quatermain: Yes, Nigel, you toddle off now.
Nigel: Toddling sir.
[Thug shoots Dorian full of holes, but Dorian heals before his eyes]
Thug: What are you?
Dorian Gray: I am… complicated.
[Dorian fighting another immortal character]
Dorian Gray: We’ll be at this all day.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- From Hell
- Van Helsing