“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a celebration of the collaboration of several famed characters pulled together in Stephen Norrington’s latest adventure from the comic books written by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Duty calls in 19th-century London, where a bunch of famous legends are summoned to battle with evil to prevent a great war. All standard.
The movie opens in 1899 Africa, where the great explorer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) is sought by the British Empire to defend the European nations from the villain known only as Fantom. But Quartermain has put the Empire behind him, for at least enough time for us to get aquatinted with his tragic story, about the death of his son from an earlier adventure.
After the bloodshed hits home in Kenya, Quartermain agrees to go to London where he will be responsible for rounding up a group of men to take on Fantom and to stop him from taking over the world, as if we expected another motive.
The members of this newly formed league are exciting and every bit as intriguing as the characters from the “X-Men,” most likely because these are all legends we’ve read about growing up as children. The fact that they’re all brought together is enough of a reason to see the film. Heroes always join forces in the comics, it’s about time they do the same in the movies.
They are: Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), the colorful inventor from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"; H.G. Wells' Invisible Man (Tony Curran); Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), an invincible character whose only weakness is what lies in his own portrait; Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), a vampire widow who's affairs go back to Count Dracula; and Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), the mad scientist who needs no introduction. By consuming his elixir, Jekyll transforms himself into the raging Mr. Hyde. The uninvited character who eventually makes his way onto the set is Tom Sawyer (Shane West), the American cowboy from Mississippi and eventual Quartermain apprentice.
The characters are brought to life through amazing, unobtrusive special effects. While today it is common for action movies to have lots of explosions and big bangs (though this feature doesn’t lack in those areas), the most absorbing effects trigger our imaginations, as we think what it would be like to be invisible, or undetectable or have an alter form. You can’t see Invisible Man until he applies his makeup, and we watch as his face slowly comes into form, while the back of his head is still missing. Jekyll can’t get away from the haunting sounds of his alter ego begging him to drink the elixir. Dorian’s flesh wounds immediately turn to dusk after taking gun fire.
The story has two plots in it: The first which isn’t very good, has Quartermain and his gang racing to Venice where a conference is to be conducted to decide the outcome of the potential war. Fantom however has plans to disrupt the meeting, so the league must get to Venice first before the bombs start going off. The second part is the knee-jerker, and it makes little sense once we learn the rest of the details. Without revealing any of it, I will say I agree with some critics when they say the story is inexplicable, but it’s no worse than “Hulk.” Hey, it’s a comic book movie, and yet somehow the critics who praised “Hulk” forgot that in this case.
The flaws are major and they prevented me from really liking this film. For one, no boat the size of a cruise ship could ever enter the canals of Venice. Here, we see Captain Nemo’s Nautilus navigate the canals with the same ease a toy boat would have in a community pool. I was horrifically reminded of the latest “Godzilla,” the movie that features a beast who could tower skyscrapers in some scenes and then crawl through tunnels in others.
The plot holes don’t stop at the size of Nautilus. In one scene, there’s a car chase through the streets of Venice, the streets that don’t really exist according to Roger Ebert, and Sawyer must fire off a flare gun when he spots a hidden bomb, but the details of the plan are never really explained. The list of flaws continue, but it would be unfair for me to go any further because this is a comic book movie. I’m sure the students at Peter Parker’s high school appreciate me not blaming them for being unable to piece Parker to Spiderman in that not-so-tough puzzle.
The one-liners, oh those precious one-liners. Too many one-liners is a recipe for bad dialogue, and that theory is proven here. Case and point:
A Good Guy: What do you want?
A Bad Guy: The world. I want the world!
But thankfully Connery has enough clever one-liners to somewhat balance the horrible ones. But again, this is a comic book movie, and the dialogue is never memorable in comic book movies.
As for Sean Connery, at almost 74-years-old, he continues to prove his ability to steal the show. As the one with the least amount of magical powers, Connery’s character still keeps us interested. His age is not avoided, but instead used in good humor; you’ll understand what I mean when you see how he puts his glasses to use.
When the film ends, there is little to remember of the story. Frankly, we don’t care much because it’s the same as nearly ever summer-action flick. But how could you not buy into the colorful characters? Each one deserves their own movie. I’d like to start with Dr. Jekyll, who only sees the image of the beastly Mr. Hyde whenever he looks into a mirror. Hey, these guys aren’t the X-Men, but it’s a refreshing change from the usual.
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