REVIEW: 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'

Thu, July 10th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

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)

literature.

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

good use.

THE

CHARACTERS

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

incarnations.

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

life's adventure.

THE

EFFECTS

The special effects that support these fantastic characters are

top-notch. 

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."

THE

ACTORS

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

fear.

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.

THE

STORY

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.

THE

VERDICT

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.

CBR News

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.