Some of most memorable characters from late 19th Century literature must join forces to fight an evil maniac called the Fantom and save the world. Adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), split personality Dr.Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), ageless Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), infamous Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) and American Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West) are brought together to form "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."
If there were truth in advertising required when titling movies, this should really be called "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Stuck In An Incredibly Mediocre Movie." A friend of mine lent me the comic book series to read before I saw the film and I figured I would check out the source material by Allan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. While I'm not a fan of graphic comics I found the series a very clever super hero tale with a funky melding of the disparate personalities that make up the League, lots of dark humor and flashy sci-fi action. The scope of the work - this Victorian A-Team must stop an evil, inventive genius from destroying London with his atomic powered flying machine - is huge but, with advances in computer animation, doable if given the budget. Thus prepared, I went to see "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," the movie.
Things start off well enough with our first glimpse of the strangely different world of 1899 as an incredible machine bursts onto a London street, routing the astounded constabulary and smashing into the heart of a bank. By golly! It's a tank straight out of World War One, the first of many such future references that meld Jules Verne and H.G. Wells into this tale of the heroes saving the world. The exciting opening and the introduction of all of the members of the League is entertaining and fills the first half hour adequately. Then, things kick into gear as our odd assemblage of heroes must stop the evil genius, the Fantom, from exterminating the leaders of the world and, in the process, destroying the beautiful city of Venice.
This could have been sufficient for a complete story but, since you can't have too much of a good thing, director Stephen Norrington and company, including executive producer Sean Connery, belly up to the bar with a script by James Dale Robinson that has little to do with the source material. Instead of even attempting to stay true to the original, the makers decided to revamp, entirely, the story, keeping the intro'd characters, adding a few more, and plugging it all into a stock world-crisis-and-the-assemblage-of-experts-brought-together-to-save-said-world a la "Armageddon" and "The Core." There is nothing, except the characters and cuteness to recommend this insult to its source.
Production values, from the all wheel drive Dussenberg-like car that races across Venice (having been there, no mean feat for sure) to the other future devices like machine guns (lots and lots of machine guns) and Captain Nemo's submarine, the huge but surprisingly unfabulous Nautilus. The famous boat is merely a conglomeration of lots of big sets but little to make you think that you are traveling in a fantabulous vehicle of the future. The Nautilus of the 1954 flick, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," had far more character than this new rendition of Jules Verne's creation.
The rest of the production, including the several action sequences, are very well made and expensive looking but the action itself consists of bunches of bullets and lots of chop-sockey fights and little more. The look of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is far lusher than the by-the-numbers script by James Dale Robinson deserves. The adaptation is unimaginative and routinely told and fails to do justice to the well-crafted sets and special F/X.
The large ensemble cast is personable enough but none of the players is given more than comic book treatment. Sean Connery is an icon in his chosen field and effortlessly gives depth to his Allan Quartermain - the septuagenarian still struts his stuff well. Peta Wilson, as Mina Harker and the group's only woman, reigns over the crew like a queen bee and gives dignity to her bloodsucking vampire. The rest are little more than a who's who of turn of the 19th century sci-fi literature. Faring least well in the ensemble is Jason Flemyng's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The former is bland and the latter, a giant misshapen creature, will be compared, poorly, on many levels to the new Hulk. The bad guy, the Fantom, is too ambiguous for disdain by the audience and represents wasted opportunity - there isn't one maniacal laugh in the whole film!
Why the filmmakers chose to, basically, ignore the source material is a mystery to me. The end of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" provides ample material for a sequel. Too bad they didn't make a film that deserves to have a sequel. I give it a D+.
Laura did not see this film.
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