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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Directed by Stephen Norrington
Written by James Robinson, from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Principal Cast
Sean Connery -- Allan Quatermain
Naseeruddin Shah -- Captain Nemo
Peta Wilson -- Mina Harker
Tony Curran -- Rodney Skinner (The Invisible Man)
Stuart Townsend -- Dorian Gray
Shane West -- Tom Sawyer
Jason Flemyng -- Dr. Henry Jekyll aka Mr. Edward Hyde
Richard Roxburgh -- Mycroft Holmes
Max Ryan -- Dante
Tom Goodman-Hill -- Sanderson Reed
David Hemmings -- Nigel
Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

"I don't like theatrics!" Sean, old boy, you walked into the wrong movie. As I watched The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or LXG) I began to get the notion that the film makers, at some point early on, realized just how bad this one was going to be, that there was precious little they could do to save it, and so put everything they had into making a spectacle of the thing. Histrionics, and a convulsive pacing that makes the thing lurch forward every twenty minutes or so, must have seemed like signs of life.

Sean Connery plays Allan Quatermain, except everyone in the movie calls him "Quartermain," so either they're wrong or H. Rider Haggard was wrong. Quatermain comes from Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines; one of the central conceits of LXG is that the characters from Victorian pulp fiction were real and were the forerunners of today's superheroes (actually, that was Alan Moore's conceit. Moore's comic is what this movie is based on -- very loosely based on, I'm told). Quatermain/Connery is coaxed out of retirement in 1899 to lead a remarkably fey group of heroes put together by a British government operative named "M" to fight an international threat known as The Phantom. It seems The Phantom has been using new technology, such as tanks and shoulder-fired missile launchers, to run over London bobbies and blow up Berlin factories, with an eye towards starting a "world war." When we first meet him, our hero Quatermain is relaxing in Kenya, on the verges of the Empire, and is reluctant to get involved; then assassins with automatic rifles show up from apparently nowhere and shoot the place to pieces before blasting it with explosives. Quatermain decides something must be done, especially if his favorite whiskey is going to be incinerated. He accepts the mission.

He arrives in London, where the team has mostly been assembled and awaits his command. It includes Captain Nemo (portrayed as an Indian inventor extraordinaire), an invisible man named Skinner (because H.G. Wells' estate wouldn't play ball), vampire Mina Harker (yes, vampire), American secret agent Tom Sawyer, and Dorian Gray; later they'll stop in Paris to pick up Dr. Jekyll during a scene so obviously truncated by editing that you know they left it in to explain how he gets into the movie. There's a real thrill in the idea of a Victorian-era X-Men, but notice how the script introduces them. Quatermain has no idea who is on the team at this point. If he decides he doesn't like what M put together for him, he could walk and that would be the end of it. Of course he isn't going to do that, so the meeting is transparently a contrivance done for our benefit only.

Also, you would think the team was assembled to take advantage of each member's obviously needful skills. But since there is no real reason for these particular characters to have been brought together, each one gets a scene to show off their talent and attempt to justify their inclusion. A better script would never have wasted our time like this. The model to follow here is Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, where the construction of the warrior team is as suspenseful, humorous and dramatic as anything in the rest of the picture. In LXG, it's simply marking time and filling up the screen with those empty theatrics that Quatermain hates so much.

Our super-villain Phantom is planning an attack on a conference in Venice; our heroes rush over on the submarine Nautilus to stop it. Now, if you've established beforehand that the Nautilus is roughly the size of the Queen Mary, you cannot then have it negotiate its way up the canals of Venice. Furthermore, if you use Venice as your setting, you cannot stage an elaborate car chase there. There are no roads, only the aforementioned canals. Yet both of these things happen in LXG.

Eventually there's a climax in the Mongolian mountains, where the snow is several feet thick, but you never see an invisible man's footprints. All the "special" effects, in fact, have the cheesiness of 70s movie-making, but none of the charm. And the city of Venice appears to have been made from actual stage flats.

Is there anything good in this? Aside from the central idea, there's the knowledge that when Dr. Jekyll looks in a mirror, Mr. Hyde looks back at him, and when Hyde looks in a mirror, he sees Jekyll. I like that.

The actors can't be blamed for any of this. You cringe for them, hearing the lines they have to speak, such as the excellent Peta Wilson's explanation of who Mina Harker is: "My husband Jonathan Harker and I once fought a great evil. Its name was Dracula. He was from Transylvania." Ugh. At least they escape with their dignity -- just barely.

As usual, the final scene hints at a sequel, though I should imagine the studio's dreams of a franchise are stone cold dead in the grave by now. You couldn't bring these actors back, anyway; look at how much trouble it was to put Terminator 3 on the screen. And that was a good movie.

Copyright © 2003 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years before joining the college book trade. He lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.

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