Deneb does The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

league_of_extraordinary_gentlemen“Hello, my freaky darlings.”

The Scoop: 2003 PG-13, directed by Stephen Norrington and starring Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shaw, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng and Richard Roxburgh.

Tagline: Prepare for the extraordinary.

Summary Capsule: Characters from Victorian literature team up to save the world.

denebbannerDeneb’s Rating: Errm… Not quite sure about what to put here, really…

Deneb’s Review: Well, I guess it was inevitable.

For the roughly 98 and one-half perfect of you that are scratching your heads and going ‘huh?’, we have a history, this movie and I – one that, it could be argued, is ultimately responsible for getting me onto this site in the first place.

Somewhere in one of his older reviews – I fear I have forgotten which one – Justin makes mention of ‘some guy’ (I’m paraphrasing) getting into a bit of a tiff with him over his review of LXG. Yes folks, you guessed it – that ‘some guy’ was me. Ah, the memories.

See, here’s what happened – I’d just gotten back from the the-ay-ter, read the review, thought it was too negative. I sent a polite e-mail saying so (this was back on the old site, before the blog-style means of commenting was in place). In short order, another (to my way of thinking at the time) overly negative review was posted, and I, in a highly excitable mood, got into a brief but blazing e-argument with Justin over the fact. Thankfully it ended amicably, but that was my first direct communication with our Fearless Leader, and one thing – over a lengthy time period and a number of other factors – ultimately led to another, and here I am.

So what exactly led me to such perilous extremes? Well… we’ll get to that. First things first.

It is the eve of the 20th Century, and things are running amuck. A mysterious man known as the Fantom is going around stirring up trouble. Equipped with (for the time) extremely high-tech weaponry, he’s setting various countries against each other, hoping to profit from the coming conflict. In short, he’s doing his darnedest to start World War One.

Now, this is all ill and bad, but one of those countries is England – and the British Empire just doesn’t stand for that sort of thing, dontcha know. So they bring together a team of unique individuals to take the Fantom down.

First, there’s Alan Quatermain (Sean Connery), famed great white hunter/adventurer. He’s none too happy about being dragged into all this; he’s a tad past his prime and disenchanted with the Empire – but hey, world war is a bit of a higher priority, so off to London he goes to meet with the mysterious M (Richard Roxburgh), coordinator of this whole affair. Once there, he meets, in short order, Captain Nemo (Nasseeruddin Shaw), famous underwater pirate, Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), second-hand Invisible Man, and Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), ex almost-but-not-quite Bride of Dracula (but close enough, it seems). From there, they add to their numbers Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), foppish immortal aristocrat, the notorious monstrosity Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), otherwise known as Dr. Jekyll when he’s calmed down a bit, and, as a surprise addition, agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West) of the American secret service.

Together, they would seem to be more than enough firepower to halt the Fantom’s reign of terror. But there are other factors at work here, and before things have wrapped themselves up, they will have to decide just who they can trust…

OK, before I get into the meat of this review, there are a couple of things I should say. First, a caveat – the reason I was so particularly vehement about LXG’s not-so-badness at the time, I have since determined, was due to the fact that I first saw it with friends. Particularly dear friends, these were (and are), the ones I mentioned in my Felix the Cat review. They only infrequently come to visit, and fewer times still have I gone out to see a movie with them – so you can imagine that, given the circumstances, whatever my opinion of LXG I was not going to give it a thumbs-down when seen under such joyful circumstances.

Second – and because I know I will be asked this if I don’t mention it – yes, I have read the comics. Not all of them; I still haven’t gotten to the later volumes yet, but at the time the movie came out, Vol. 1 (the only one, at that point) was a particular favorite of mine. I’d reread my copy countless times, and it still counts as one of my favorite stories in comics. When I heard they were making an adaptation of it, I went wild with anticipation, especially when I learned they had cast some of the same people I’d already cast in my head – and I was just as disappointed as anyone else when I learned they weren’t making a ‘straight’ adaptation, but were veering off into different territory.

Now, with those two things in mind, and the aforementioned little argument ringing in my what-would-be-ears-if-you-heard-e-mails, I began to doubt myself. ‘Seems to me’, said I to me, ‘that loads and loads of folksies think LXG is a massively horrible misfire. And it did stray awfully far from the comics…’

Such thoughts did race through my surging brain (if brains surge), and before long, I had more or less convinced myself that the movie was indeed a gigantic turd-fest, and that I, like so many of my fellows, should shun it – or, at least, not watch it. And so I didn’t. For years.

But then that old demon Curiosity slipped his cat-killing tendrils into my brain (via the ears, in case you’re wondering), and reminded me that whether or not the movie was any good, the comics (heretofore referred to as LoEG, for the sake of efficiency) were pretty nifty, and maybe I should reread ‘em. And I did, and they were, and dangit money, why aren’t you in my pockets so I can pick up the others? And then that meddling Curiosity gave his tendrils an extra wiggle, rendering me partially deaf for six seconds, and reminded me further that I had reviews due, and a copy of LXG that I’d gotten as a gift was sitting on my shelf at that very moment. And wasn’t that a co-inky-dink now, that these sets of circumstances happened to converge at the very time that OH ALL RIGHT I’LL REVIEW THE DAMN THING, NOW LEAVE MY EARS ALONE!

So, rubbing my tender, violated auditory organs, I popped in the DVD and watched it. And you know what, I owe a debt of thanks to that demon, because I still like LXG. Maybe not as much as I did having just exited the theater, but considerably more than for many years I thought I didn’t.

First things first, however, as while I may like this movie more than most, I will certainly acknowledge that it has flaws. Oh boy, does it have flaws.

Let’s start with the one that everybody notices – the Nautilus, Nemo’s famed submersible vessel. Most people wonder – often out loud, at great volume, directed towards the sky – why on Earth the filmmakers ignored the snappy LoEG design (which is doubtless the most iconic the thing’s been in years) in favor of a new one. For reasons I’ll get into shortly, I’ll pass over that particular gripe for now and just say that the version they went with here is frankly ridiculous, and blows suspension of disbelief clear out of the water.

Now, the Nautilus, of course, has been redesigned many times, and almost always strays away from the book description, which is frankly too reminiscent of a modern submarine – you want it to be something impressive, something fantastic. I get that; I do. What I don’t get is the decision to translate ‘impressive’ as ‘an underwater cruise liner the size of the freakin’ Titanic’. This thing is impossibly, ridiculously gigantic; it’s like a mobile office block set on its side. Nemo and his crew, it is worth recalling, are pirates, or once were. How exactly are we supposed to believe that this thing could remain undetected by the navies of the world for even five minutes, Victorian era or no? Hell, how are we supposed to believe that it can submerge itself in any but the deepest waters? This thing makes a blue whale look puny! The most-quoted example of this Nautilus’ ridiculousness is the sequence where the behemoth somehow manages to squeeze through the Venice canals, and yes, that’s preposterous, but honestly, that didn’t throw me. It’s the introductory scene that does it, the one where it starts to surface – and keeps going, and going, and going… It’s not awe-inspiring; it’s ‘this would have been cool if you’d ended this scene a few seconds in and allowed us to keep ignoring the fact that your average harbor is not the depth of the Marianas Trench.’

The rest, unfortunately, mainly consists of character flubs. I say ‘unfortunately’ because… well, character flubs are always bad, of course, but they’re especially annoying when you’re dealing with a film like LXG that is supposed to be entirely about the characters. The novelty of these famous literary figures getting together to fight bad guys is the driving point of the film, and you’d think they would go the extra mile to get these characters just right. I’ll go into the actual flubs themselves when I talk about the characters, but for the moment, let’s just say they’re a bit distracting.

Otherwise, the script is occasionally more than just slightly unsubtle (‘Oh, hey, Dorian Grey, there’s a spot on your wall where a portrait should be; I wonder whether that will be important?’), and occasionally throws in bits of exposition that are irritating to those of us who already know who these people are, thank you very much; the plot shares the typical Hollywood over-indulgence in things that go boom, and while I really will get into this in more detail later, so no need to dwell on it, why is Tom Sawyer in this movie? Like, at all? You pandering America-centric idiots, 20th Century Fox!

And yet, I still like this movie. Why? Well, read on.

First off, there is something that must be addressed – people get very mad with LXG for not being a faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. (Here, you may surmise – and you’d be right – is where my holding back on my vitriol on the non-LoEG Nautilus comes in.) Well, here’s the thing – it was not, in point of fact, an adaptation of the graphic novel to begin with; it was an adaptation of the concept. Work started on this movie before the first issue of LoEG was ever published; it was not based on the comic, but on Alan Moore’s initial LoEG proposal when it was being pitched to Wildstorm. Sure, they fiddled things around a bit to include elements of the comic (the LXG Hyde, for instance, is obviously closely based on Kevin O’Neill’s distinctive redesign), but by the time it was coming out and getting popular, the movie was already going in a very different direction. So it’s not really fair to fret and fume over bungling of the adaptation – LXG is its own creature, and deserves to be judged that way, for good or ill.

So don’t expect the mastery of Alan Moore in this film, because you’re not going to get it. Instead, what you should prepare yourself for is style. Not overwhelming style, but style nonetheless, and plenty of it.

LXG doesn’t have a lot to say, I’ll grant you that, and what it does say isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, but it’s not trying to be. It’s trying to be a stylish action-packed romp through a parade of giddy steampunk anachronisms, and by golly if it isn’t that very thing. Sure, there’s some stupid stuff in there, but it’s mixed in with a good amount of fun, the occasional genuinely effective moment (which, incidentally, I will expand here to include the entire opening sequence, right up until Quatermain gets to London), and a level of design work that is consistently excellent.

Take Nemo’s car, for instance. Yes, Nemo has a car – he invented the automobile in this universe, along with the 12, 000 ton submarine. And yes, there is no earthly reason for this to be the case, and yes, people learn to drive it awfully quickly for folks who’ve never had a lesson in their lives, and yes, Nemo should logically be the last person to have invented such a thing – he lives on an underwater cruise ship; what the hell does he need a car for? – and yes, and yes, and yesBut. It is an awfully cool car. I mean, look at the thing – it’s got six wheels and elephants around the headlights and it evidently drives pretty darn fast, so – yeah. Cool.

That car, it could be said, sums up the movie in a nutshell. Sure, it’s full of problems and there’s no real reason for it to exist, but by gum doesn’t it hum when it gets going! And doesn’t it look fancy! You can’t really say it’s a bad car – er, movie – can you, just because it hiccups a bit going around the curves? (I mean around the… uh…. Plot-holes? Yes, yes, I like that. Except there aren’t really any big… ah, screw it; it sounds too good.)

All labored metaphors aside, if you can take this movie on its own terms and manage to refrain from nitpicking, it’s not bad. I’m in danger of repeating myself, so… yeah. Not bad.

On to the characters, the real meat of this whole endeavor. If there is a main character here, it’s probably Quatermain, and really, that’s a good thing, because he’s the one who’s most free of flaws. Say what you will about Sean Connery being a little old for the part, and how it shows, and blah blah blah – he’s still Sean Connery. Sean Connery is awesome, always has been awesome, and always will be awesome. The man could play this sort of role in his sleep, and while there’s nothing really unique about his character, he does come across as very believable in the role. Quatermain as presented here is not the opium-addicted wreck we first meet in the comics, but he’s equally world-weary, and has the sort of built-in skepticism born of having seen and experienced a lot that he would rather have avoided. He doesn’t want to be out adventuring; he wants to be enjoying his retirement, but so long as he is here, he’s going to give it his all and do his best – and even in his golden years, his best is still pretty darn good.

Next, I suppose, comes Mina, who has been substantially changed from the comic (although, again, this is hardly the filmmakers’ fault, as they could hardly have produced the exact same character from an early script proposal). Mina is… odd. I’m not sure if I’d exactly call the treatment of her character a miscalculation, but it does raise an awful lot of questions.

I mean, look – she’s a vampire, OK? At least, we think she is; the movie is awfully coy on the subject. She can do all the normal sort of cool vampiric stuff; she drinks blood, she can fly, she summons bats, etc., etc. – and yet, is she or isn’t she a genuine vampire? She doesn’t appear to exhibit any of the usual weaknesses of her supposed kind – she has no problem with sunlight, she never shows any sign of blood dependency despite only feeding a few times during the movie, and while we never see her having any problems with, say, garlic or crosses, I’d be willing to guess that she’s probably fine with those, too. Yet her origin involves Dracula, and he had problems with all those things – indeed, he set the standard for having problems with all those things. So is she therefore not an actual vampire, but some sort of half/partially-turned vampire, hence explaining her overall retention of humanity? Mmmmay-be, but you’d never know it from the film, which just plain doesn’t talk about it.

Speaking of not talking about it, the other team members seem to be awfully casual about the whole thing. I know if I knew I was sharing quarters with a bloodthirsty undead creature (if she is indeed any of those things, but enough of that), I might be just a tad bit perturbed. But no, everyone’s fine with it, or appears to be. Is being a vampire just one of those things that is not discussed in polite society, like, I don’t know, having put on the wrong tie or something? Are they all just being very Victorian about it? Beats me.

Really, though, there’s nothing wrong with the character, and I actually do like Peta Wilson’s performance. She’s got this imperturbable cool thing going on that works very well for the role, with just a hint of hands-off, ironic sexuality, like ‘I wouldn’t be so gauche as to suggest that you seduce me, but I’d find it diverting if you were to try’. I also like the fact that she’s been given an actual, useful role in the team – in the comic, of course, her role was ‘leader’, but here she’s got a scientific background, so when she’s not kicking ass and biting throats, she’s analyzing things, very progressive for a woman from the late 19th Century. I like Mina, and even though I do kind of yearn for what could have been – the LoEG version is awesome – I understand that that just wasn’t in the cards here, so I’m fine with what we got.

Third, we have Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, one of my favorite characters from the comic. He’s not bad; I would have liked to have the good doctor look a bit more wasted and sickly, but overall he could be worse, and Jason Flemyng does a good job in the dual role (although I suspect he was chosen more for his Hyde than his Jekyll). Also, effects-wise, I quite like the way the transformation sequences take place; having him literally explode into his alter ego is something I haven’t seen before. There are a few issues, though – they talk an awful lot about how wicked and evil Hyde’s supposed to be (which, of course, is entirely the point; he’s Jekyll’s bad side), and he is suitably creepy when he’s allowed to be, but other times, he’s… not. In fact, he sometimes appears genuinely heroic, which is baffling, to say the least.

Now, to be fair, this is to some degree inherited from the comic, and some of it may have trickled in from Moore’s initial treatment. But comics-Hyde is never heroic – or at least, never entirely so. Sure, he’ll fight the bad guys, but that’s because he likes fighting; it appeals to his brutish nature. Doing something unambiguously good, simply because it is good, is completely alien to his nature. He does have a sympathetic side that is developed (although this is mainly in Vol. 2, which hadn’t come out yet), but it’s very much a tentative, wobbly sort of thing – it’s a matter of feeling sympathy for him rather than him actually doing sympathetic things. Overall, Hyde is a foul creature, knows he is a foul creature, and basically has no problem with being a foul creature – the only thing that stops him from being thoroughly and unstoppably evil is Jekyll’s influence, however weak that might be at times. His actual actions in LXG do tend to support this – he acts largely out of self-preservation or for personal satisfaction – but having freaking Hyde, Edward Hyde, the personification of the darkness in men’s souls, Mr. Hyde himself talking about getting innocents to safety when, in the book, the first thing we see him do is trample over a little girl  – well, it kind of makes one blink a bit.

Like I said, though, I have no problem with the actual performance. They could have chosen a worse man for the job than Flemyng – he’s believably haunted as Jekyll, and hams it up enjoyably as Hyde – but I wish they’d given the character another going-over during the scripting process.

Fourth comes Captain Nemo. His ridiculous vessel aside, I have no particular problem with the LXG version of the character. Nasseeruddin Shaw is, of course, well-known as an actor, and he certainly does nothing to embarrass himself here, giving Nemo the air of authority and competence that you’d expect someone like him would have – after all, the man invented the world’s first submarine (and car) and was the terror of the seven seas for a good long while; he certainly has no reason to be unsure of himself. If I have any complaint about Nemo, it’s that he just doesn’t have much to do; he mainly just orders around his crew, makes dramatic statements and provides his fellow team members with cool technology to use. He lacks the dark side that previous incarnations have had, and that does have the unfortunate result of watering down the character a bit. I do like, however, that they established him as a martial arts badass and a terror with the sword; whenever the team gets into battle, you know you’ll have something interesting to see from him. (Oh, and as a side-note – Hollywood really needs to knock off this whole ‘Kali, goddess of death, oooooooooooo’ thing. Yes, Nemo worships Kali; he’s a freaking Hindu, of course he does. Stop making it out like he’s a devil-worshipper.)

As for the remaining three Leaguers, we’re now getting into not-in-the-comics territory – which we technically were in anyway with Mina, but I digress. First up is Rodney Skinner, who, as indicated earlier, is an Invisible Man instead of the Invisible Man – turns out being light-fingered with the original’s process was not the best idea, as being permanently invisible kinda sucks. As you can imagine, Skinner is our comic relief, so it’s a good thing that he’s played with a light touch instead of rubbed in our faces – Tony Curran does a pretty good job in the role, doesn’t show up enough to be annoying, and is legitimately amusing at times. Overall, it could have been a lot worse (and the effects used to invisiblize him are pretty cool-looking).

Our first original (well, none of these are wholly original, but you know what I mean) League member comes in the form of Dorian Gray. I get the distinct impression that the screenwriters, unable to use the LoEG’s slimy bastard of an Invisible Man, decided that they had to have someone to fill the same role – hence Mr. Gray’s inclusion. As played by Stuart Townsend, he is a foppish, boorish, languid man-about-town whose little deal with the devil has rendered him functionally invincible; he can’t die, he’s forever young, and he’s got a healing factor that rivals Wolverine’s. LXG Gray is basically the book character if the end of the story never happened – as such, he’s kind of an oily creep who nonetheless possesses a fair measure of charm and a penetrating wit. He may be kind of shoehorned into this incarnation of the League, but I must admit, I like Townsend in this role. If he dialed back the performance a bit, I’d recommend him for a ‘straight’ portrayal of Dorian any day.

The same sort of thing cannot, unfortunately, be said about Shane West’s Tom Sawyer. West doesn’t do a bad job, exactly, but there is no reason for his character to be here. He is thoroughly superfluous, and only exists so that A: 20th Century Fox execs could sleep soundly in the knowledge that Americans would not cause riots due to a movie with no Americans in it, and B: Quatermain would have someone to be all paternal towards. If you are a fan of the original novel, you will find no trace of that here – Sawyer is just a generic ‘brash young hero’ type, and with minute rewriting could have been excised from the movie altogether. The best thing we get out of his character is a memorable quote from Quatermain; other than that – pah. I’d rather he were a bad character than a bland one; at least bad characters can be interestingly bad.

Finally, we have our villain – the Fantom. Not much to say about him, really, except that he actually does have a rather clever plan (besides the main one) that I honestly wouldn’t have thought of. Besides that, I kinda like his costume, and I can’t say anything else without getting into spoiler territory (which, I should mention, some of my fellow reviewers have already entered into below, so – reader beware), except that we do eventually learn his true identity, and I wish we hadn’t, since the surprise is not terribly well-executed. I would have liked him better if he’d just stayed as the Fantom. (Heck, I would have loved him if he had – as was teased he might – turned out to be the actual Phantom, as in capital P-h ‘of the Opera’ version. That would have been freakin’ awesome.)

So, having gone over all its flaws and virtues, the crucial question looms – would I recommend this movie or not? Well, with reservations, yes, I would. It does have a cult following, so I know that there are people other than me who either already enjoy it or would – and yet identifying said people and putting across to them why they should watch the movie would be a tricky and fiddlesome task, given that its precise allure is both problematic and difficult to pin down.

All right, how’s this – if you are a purist when it comes to the source material, either book or comic, and/or have a tendency to nitpick and an unyielding standard of excellence when it comes to movies, then no, I don’t recommend it. You’d break your head. If, on the other hand, you think you’d appreciate a lot of good razzle-dazzle with a steampunk edge to it and some good stuff buried amongst the nonsense – if, in other words, you are prepared to dig through the fluff – then yes, I do. With a little patience, LXG is a fun little flick, and deserving of your attention. At any rate, it’s worth seeing at least once.

And there you have it. Come full circle, I have I have, and now my own review sits alongside the two that caused me such outrage way back when – along with several more agreeing with them. I stand by my own opinion; I leave it up to you to decide who’s right. Yoiks and tally-ho, LXG out.

justinbannerJustin’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 soundway 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 extremelypoorly 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.]

poolbannerPoolMan’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….

It sucked.

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!

"Here we go gathering nuts in may, nuts in may, nuts in may... Whee! Violence is fun! Here we go gathering nuts in..."

“Here we go gathering nuts in may, nuts in may, nuts in may… Whee! Violence is fun! Here we go gathering nuts in…”

Intermission!

  • Like (I’m sure) many people, I had been under the impression that the Mr. Hyde effects were achieved via CGI – and some sequences probably are. However, the bulk of them were done via practical special effects, with Jason Flemyng donning an impressively-realized monster suit.
  • Sean Connery’s on-set clashes with director Stephen Norrington were the stuff of legend, ultimately causing both to retire from the movie business.
  • A prominent part of LoEG’s backstory is that there have been a number of previous Leagues, the pictures of which adorn the walls of the British Museum’s secret annex. In LXG, there are three such pictures – according to the screenplay, one depicts Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and the Black Arrow, one the Three Musketeers, the Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, and the third the Reverend Dr. Syn (otherwise known as the highwayman the Scarecrow), the Scarlet Pimpernel, Natty Bumpo and Lemuel Gulliver. This last one corresponds quite closely with one of the comic’s more prominent past Leagues, although the two female members (Fanny Hill and the Pimpernel’s wife, Lady Blakeney) are conspicuously absent. (Also, the version of Dr. Syn in the portrait is clearly modeled after the Disney design for the character in their adaptation of his adventures.)
  • Just how did Quatermain get so knowledgeable about tigers? They live in India; he’s specifically an African hunter.
  • M sports Campion Bond’s distinctive cigarette case from LoEG, emphasizing the fact that he is a synthesis of the two characters.
  • Where exactly did Jekyll manage to acquire a hat that big? And why didn’t he spring for a matching suit of clothes?
  • 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).

Groovy Quotes:

M: These attacks are all the work of one man, who calls himself the Fantom.
Quatermain: Very operatic.

Skinner: Hello, my freaky darlings.

Nigel: Perhaps I should toddle off, should I Allan?
Quatermain: Yes of course, Nigel, you toddle off.
Nigel: Toddling.

Mr. Hyde: I have been missing London so. Its sorrow is as sweet to me as a rare wine.

Quatermain: If you can’t do it with one bullet, don’t do it at all.

Fantom goon: Draw your pistol!
Nemo: I walk a different path.

Sanderson: Where is your sense of patriotism?
Quatermain: God save the Queen!
Club patrons: (listlessly) God save the Queen.
Quatermain: That’s about as patriotic as it gets around here.

Dr. Jekyll: Hyde will never use me again.
Dorian Gray: Then what good are you?

Quatermain: Automatic rifles? Who in God’s name has automatic rifles?
Club patron: Dashed unsporting! Probably Belgian!

Mina: You’re sweet – and you’re young. Neither are traits that I hold in high regard.

Quatermain: Where are we going? Australia?

Mr. Hyde: She barely even looks at you.
Dr. Jekyll: Be quiet!
Mr. Hyde: She looks at me!

Quatermain: That notion makes you sweat?
Sanderson Reed: Heavens, man, doesn’t it you?
Quatermain: This is Africa, dear boy. Sweating is what we do.

Fantom goon: What are you?
Dorian Gray: I’m complicated.

Quatermain: I’ve had women along on past exploits, and found them to be, at best, a distraction.
Mina: Do I distract you?

Skinner: Kickin’ us out already? A moment ago, it was sherry and giggles.

Quatermain: The vampire lady has us covered!

Tom Sawyer: Boy, they told me European women had funny ways.

Quatermain: I’ve buried two wives, and many lovers, and I’m no mood for more of either.
Skinner: You can send them my way, if you like.
Quatermain: Skinner, shut up.

Dorian Gray: If that had been permanent, I’d have been very upset.

Quatermain: I want you dressed at all times, or it’s my boot up your arse.

Mr. Hyde: Don’t be afraid.
Tom Sawyer: Who says I’m afraid?
Mr. Hyde: YOU DO! You stink of fear!

Dorian Gray: I’m an immortal, sir, not a gazelle.

Nemo: We have trouble.
Mr. Hyde: Trouble? I call it sport.

Quatermain: I may have been overly rude earlier when I called you a pirate.
Nemo: And I may have been overly charitable when I said I wasn’t – but I try to live in the now, where the ghosts of old wrongs do not abide.

Skinner: I’m feeling a bit of a draft in my nether regions – and I must say, it’s quite refreshing.

Quatermain: Very American. Fire enough bullets and hope to hit the target.

Dorian Gray: We’ll be at this all day.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Wild Wild West
  • From Hell
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7 Comments

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