Film Reviews:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

(Stephen Norrington, US/Ger/Czech/UK, 2003)

Review 1 / Review 2

Review 2

In Victorian England, mysterious spymaster M assembles a team of great heroes of the day: Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Mrs. Mina Harker, Dorian Grey, Tom Sawyer, Mr. Hyde and Dr Jekyll, and the Invisible Man. Together they are: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!

A film of Alan Moore's cult comic series, this has been rubbished by fans, but it's enjoyable nonsense. True, much of the pleasure of watching it has to do with the fact that it's ideal Friday night video fodder, full of blatant mistakes, and therefore just right to make fun of, crack smart aleck remarks about, and generally feel superior to.

Alan Moore's approach to his material was subversive and literate; as such it would never work for a summer blockbuster. He also included loads of perverted sex and violence, this has gone too, obviously no mainstream movie could feature the invisible man raping a schoolgirl. Nor can ironic Victorian-style racism be permitted. And of course Sean Connery isn't going to agree to play Allan Quartermain as a morphine-addled loser. Instead, his Quartermain is the sharp talking leader of the League, with original leader Miss Murray renamed as the more obvious Mrs. Harker, made into a vampire, and relegated to sidekick status. Two additional characters have been drafted in: Tom Sawyer and Dorian Grey. Neither have much to do, although there's a half-hearted attempt to make them into a love triangle with Mrs. Harker. But at least they aren't as annoying as might have been feared. The worst thing about the bonus members is that they get in the way of the real League, with the invisible man and Nemo shoved to the sidelines. But none of that is really the problem.

The real problems are these: after an exciting assembling of the League, the adventure they embark on is weak, fighting a sub-standard Bond villain, and even worse, the action scenes are outrageously stupid. Were the filmmakers are actually trying to be funny? Why else would they show a submarine as tall as a skyscraper rising up out of the Thames? And then have it zooming around the canals in Venice, and somehow managing to squeeze under the bridges! And then have a car driving around the non-existent Venice streets! But so what? It's good fun. And really, why not just chalk it all up to this being an 'alternate reality', rather than thinking that Americans just don't care what anywhere in Europe really looks like? I've no idea if this did well enough to warrant a sequel, but I hope there is one. For one thing, Alan Moore's second story of the League versus the Martians is surely good enough even for the Hollywood hacks to make a reasonable film out of. And if it's as unintentionally hilarious funny as this one, it'll be worth a look. 6/10

Adrian Horrocks (February 2005)

Review 1

[The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen]Written by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil, based on their comic of the same name (see below), this is a tour de force of production design if nothing else, delivered at break neck pace by Blade (and the fondly remembered Death Machine) director Stephen Norrington. The best way to approach this is two fold:

1.) You must see this in the cinema to get the most from the visuals (I first saw this on a 7" screen on a flight from London to Japan!)

2.) Go with it for the ride (if you try and force any 'real world' logic to it you'll be wasting your time and missing the point entirely) .

Set in a steampunk Victorian world, the story turns on Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) bringing together seven contemporary literary icons in order to foil the dastardly plot of a disfigured madman known as The Fantom. Their efforts take them across the globe is a desperate attempt to get one step ahead of the evildoer and put a stop to his plans for world war. Joining Quatermain are Captain Nemo, Mina Harker (Pet Wilson from TV's Nikita), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran - who also appeared in Blade II - not directed by Norrington), Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer and Dr Henry Jekyll/sometime Mr Hyde.

I haven't read the six part comic series upon which this is based, so I'm not going to bang on about how it has been changed or ask why the changes were made. What I will say is that this has to be the darkest film since Dark City (I'm talking about the amount of light here not the themes!). The production design by Carol Spier is an absolute triumph both in terms of sets but also the hardware that fills them (see the incredible scimitar-like Arabian version of Nemo's Nautilus for evidence). Spier also worked on Blade II, plus several Cronenberg pictures before embarking on this epic mission. The special effects are mostly dazzling (when you can make them out amid the gloom that is) and the films special and visual effects credits are a testament to this - being longer than most film's entire cast and crew list.

British director Stephen Norrington carries the momentum he brought to the surprisingly good Blade through to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and certainly deserves credit for ensuring that not only does most of the budget get seen on screen but that the ride is a thrilling one. There are some head shakingly good set pieces. He also deserves special praise for getting Connery to perform for his money rather than lazily walk through his role. Don't get me wrong, he's still Connery, but Norrington ensures that his usual polished edge is slightly tarnished making the Quatermain character more interesting that it could easily have been in a vehicle such as this. Ignore all the notorious comments Connery made about how incompetent Norrington was (famously saying that despite the thousands of gallons of water used on set, unfortunately the director never drowned!). Remember all the moaning Harrison Ford did when he worked with Ridley Scott on Blade Runner? We all know now how many times Ford has matched that performance since.

Grading this based upon all the tick boxes required of a great film this doesn't fair too well. It isn't meant to be judged by such criteria. However, rating this based upon style or entertainment over 'substance' this must be up there with the best of them. 7/10

Rob Dyer

See also:

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The - comic
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Mystery Men
Mummy, The
Mummy Returns, The

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
V for Vendetta

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