Let’s not beat around the bush. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) is no masterpiece. It’s an over-the-top and under-realized action, adventure, fantasy, science fiction film that surprisingly still manages to be endearing to me.
It’s 1899. A new century is on the horizon, and with it comes new threats. A world war is coming and a mysterious figure called The Fantom will be the cause. He is planning an attack on a secret Venice conference of world leaders in the hopes that it will cause a war that he will then profit from with his weapons. Sent in to stop him is literary character Alan Quatermain (Sean Connery), who has been living a quiet life in Africa after an incident in his past turned him away from adventuring and the British empire. A man known simply as M (Richard Roxburgh) convinces Alan, for Africa’s sake, to lead a unique team. Its mission? To stop The Fantom from destroying Venice. Thus, begins the newest generation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Its members: Rodney Skinner/The Invisible Man (a newly created character played by Tony Curran that was devised for the movie due to rights issues with the original H.G. Welles’s character), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both played by Jason Flemyng), the immortal Dorian Gray (brought in for the movie and played by Stuart Townsend), Dracula’s Mina Harker (played by Peta Wilson), Captain Nemo (played by Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah), and twenty-something, secret service agent Tom Sawyer played by Shane West.
This film is not a good representation of its source material. There are good reasons for why Alan Moore (the writer and co-creator of the comic along with artist Kevin O’Neill) does not like this adaption (well, he doesn’t like ANY adapting of his work but that is a topic for another day). To really nail the comic, this movie had to been R-rated. No question about that. The comic is violent, bloody, and deals with serious sexual material like rape. It is NOT a PG-13 summer action film. There’s action in the comic, but it’s more inline with the exaggerated violence of a Quentin Tarantino picture than an Indiana Jones film. Do I still enjoy the movie? Hell, yes, I do!
What’s to recommend? The set design and production values, such as the Africa sequence and the Nautilus, are generally good; the effects aren’t half bad; I like the period touches like the costumes; I love the cheesy jokes and one-liners, Alan’s line about it being a “wicked waste” to destroy a perfectly good bottle of alcohol for the sake of knocking out an assailant; and some of the action is fun. The emphasis is on some of the action. Whenever I get to the end of the film, I’m left feeling underwhelmed, wishing for a more exciting, imaginative, fantasy and science fiction heavy climax that takes better advantage of our League members. A number of historical inaccuracies pack the film, and ridiculous moments (like a car driving through the non-existent streets of Venice) are common. The film doesn’t strive to be realistic, though, so, maybe I shouldn’t condemn it for not being such. There are cliches left and right, such as what caused Quatermain to step into the shadows of the world, his adventuring days behind him. Hyde doesn’t look very good either. I appreciate the attempt at a practical, make-up/animatronic effect, but it just looks too bulky and silly.
The film is enjoyable enough, if not being as awesome as it could’ve been. It’s similarities to its source material are little. That makes it hard to watch if you are a fan of the comics like I am. I still would’ve gladly watched a sequel if one had been made, and watching the film, makes me sad Stephen Norrington retired from directing after this movie. I would like to see more from him. Hopefully, one day he’ll decide to take another stab at it. He may not come up with perfection, but I’ll certainly have a good time watching it. If you’re not looking for flawlessness and can stomach some bad choices here and there, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be the enjoyable, overblown popcorn movie for you.
Oh, and this was Sean Connery’s last film before he quit acting. Take that any way that you want.