Fighting to save a world that hates and fears them, it's this summer's
big-screen super team: the Ex-men!
Or, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" if you will. Based on
Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's comic book, "League" is a team-up of
characters from classic British (and, for the U.S. audiences, American)
When a mysterious villain name The Fantom (a riff on "The Phantom of the
Opera") starts using futuristic technology (we're talking tanks and machine
guns here -- it is the 19th century after all) to rip off and ransack various
locales around the world, his theatrics get England and Germany at each other's
throats. Through his machinations he pushes to world to the brink of global war.
To that end the mysterious "M" (a nod to Ian Fleming) assembles
classic characters like Alan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, Dorian Gray
and Mina Harker. He even recruits Rodney Skinner, an invisible man (he's not H.G.
Wells' "Invisible Man" although he freely admits to ripping off Wells'
boy). Of course, those bloody Americans can't keep their noses out of anything,
so when Special Agent Tom Sawyer crashes the party the team is complete.
But for all it's literary underpinnings "League" is still very much
a comic book superhero movie and still very much a Hollywood summer tentpole.
It's filled with the kind of super-powered characters you'd find in
"X-Men" or an "Avengers" comic and they're put to just as
Mina Harker (unlike her comic book counterpart) is a full on vampire with an
array of suitable abilities including a healing factor and pent up rage that
would make Wolverine envious and the ability to transform into a swarm of bats.
Mr. Hyde is the team's muscle, bearing a closer resemblance to "The
Hulk" with his massively top-heavy torso, than to any previous film
And there's no sitting around waxing philosophical about immortality for
Dorian Gray. Nope. Not when he can take a clip of automatic weapons fire in the
chest and laugh it off.
Skinner's invisibility makes him the perfect stealth agent.
Nemo is the team's Iron Man, inventing high-tech weapons and gadgets to give
them the edge.
Heck...you might as well admit that Quatermain is the Captain America while
Tom Sawyer is Hawkeye.
Like the "X-Men" all these characters have great reasons not to
help save the world, but they do it anyway. Each member of the
"League," with the seeming exceptions of the movie newbies (Gray and
Sawyer), is plagued by a dark past. Skinner's a thief. Harker has her bloodlust
which she constant struggles to control. Jekyll is tormented by Hyde. Nemo has
been a brigand of the sea. Quatermain has lost more than he's gained in his
The special effects that support these fantastic characters are
I especially enjoyed Skinner's invisibility. The man frequently puts on a
face by applying a cream over his skin. When he's not wearing his hat and shades
you just see this disembodied mask floating above an empty trench coat, creating
the perfect illusion that allows us to see the actor, but believe he's invisible
at the same time.
Mr. Hyde was also quite a sight although he pales compared to "The
Hulk." His transformation is done with camera edits (opposed to Hulk's CG
morph) and his creature form is the result of prosthetics, which sometimes have
an odd texture. Nevertheless Hyde is a completely believable beast within and
there is some CG work to help keep the character looking huge (a neat trick, not
unlike that seen in "Lord of the Rings") and moving gracefully.
The Nautilus also looks great, with a cool design appropriately giving rise
to the name "the sword of the sea."
Sean Connery does what he does best, playing the ever-cool, tough-as-nails
Quatermain who becomes the leader of the group. It's no surprise that Connery is
the best thing about the movie in the acting department.
Jason Flemyng also gives a great performance in his dual role. Jekyll seems
absolutely useless to the League at first, so fearful he is of trying to use
Hyde for anything. And Hyde is a cruel, taunting beast who Jekyll seems right to
I also enjoyed Tony Curran's Skinner, a brash but likeable rogue and
Townsend's Dorian Gray, who takes a superior air with the rest of the team.
Peta Wilson and Naseeruddin Shah give serviceable performances, but do little
to distinguish these characters in a crowded, fast-moving action film.
Shane West also did competent work as Tom Sawyer, but the role really called
for someone who could bring something extra. As much as fans will groan about the
inclusion of Sawyer's character being a blatant attempt to Americanize and
commercialize the production, the truth is the character serves an important
role at the emotional heart of the film.
The emerging father/son bond between Quatermain and Sawyer aspires to be the
emotional pay-off that "League" sorely needs but ultimately lacks.
Sadly each attempt to build that arc feels forced. The bond always occurs as
"stated," rather than "felt." When the payoff comes in the
climax of the film is just doesn't resonate.
There's a lot going on in "League" and, chances are, you won't be
bored. There's plenty of action, intrigue, eye-candy and humor to keep you
occupied and amused.
But what about the story? Well, like many Hollywood action movies, the story
for "League" works best if you don't think about it too hard. Not that
there are any glaring plot holes, but the Fantom's scheme is just so complex you
may start to wonder if he isn't going about everything the hard way.
That complexity ultimately is what hampers "League" the most.
There's so much going on, so many characters to introduce, so many schemes to
unfold, so many bad guys to set up and knock down, that everything seems to be
reduced to the shortest strokes possible. To that end I never really felt
connected to most of the characters (with the exception of Jekyll and Skinner)
and therefore had trouble buying into the over all struggle.
Overall, I'd score "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" 7 out of
10. It's not the best comic-based movie I've seen this year, but it's certainly
not the worst either. All said and done, it is entertaining.
If you come in with a healthy suspension of disbelief, a willingness not to
think about the plot too hard then you'll be rewarded with generous portions of
action, fun and eye-candy.