Review

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Review

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Jul 11, 2003 | 9:16am EDT

On paper The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sounds entirely intriguing. Great literary figures with amazing abilities who come to life to fight evil at the turn of the century? Oh yeah. The film based on a cult comic book (which film isn't these days?) chronicles the lives of these seven extraordinary--and extremely solitary--characters who sometimes view their individual abilities as more a curse than a blessing. Leading the group is Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) a skilled hunter and great adventurer whose exploits are renowned; joining him is Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran) aka The Invisible Man a rogue master thief whose invisibility makes him darned hard to catch in the act; Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) a half-human half-vampire beauty who carries on the supernatural powers of her vampire lord Count Dracula; Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) a dashing aristocrat (and Mina's ex-lover) whose immortality and guiltless conscience make him a perfect assassin; Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) a brilliant scientist and anarchist whose inventions are way ahead of their time; Agent Sawyer as in Tom (Shane West) a hotshot American secret agent who is deadly with a rifle; and last but not least Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) a meek enough fellow within whom lurks Mr. Hyde a ferocious beast who emerges at Jekyll's will. The league is called upon by the mysterious British secret agent M (Richard Roxburgh) to stop a malevolent force known as The Fantom from creating a war among the world's nations by using the most advanced technologies of the day. In return for their service each of them are promised either cures or redemption for their acts. Unfortunately the rest of the story isn't nearly as interesting as the seven extraordinary characters themselves.

The large ensemble cast generally works together well tackling their iconic literary figures in unique ways. The king of the hill is definitely Connery who dominates the proceedings as the aging Quatermain. For a 73-year-old man the actor can still pull off the dashing hero--never once do you feel his is out of his element. Yet Connery works the age angle well showing how Quatermain's lifelong experiences as an explorer--along with a great personal tragedy--has worn the adventurer down. Other standouts include Townsend as Dorian who seems to have mastered the coldhearted yet deadly sexy killer persona since playing the vampire Lestat in Queen of the Damned; Flemyng (From Hell) as Jekyll who aptly displays the good doctor's never ending and sweaty battle to fight the urge to let the grotesquely huge Hyde loose and Wilson (TV's La Femme Nikita) who gives an interesting twist to the vampiress Mina--although it isn't made entirely clear how she can retain her human qualities like walking around in sunlight after being made into a creature of the night. Don't remember that story tic in Dracula…. The other members of the league--including Shah (Monsoon Wedding) as Nemo and Curran (Blade II) as the Invisible Man--are unfortunately left sorely underdeveloped which is a shame since they are just as intriguing as any of the others. And what about a grown-up version of Tom Sawyer? There's plenty of potential in that scenario but West (A Walk to Remember) as Sawyer is relegated to being just another hotheaded American.

To get League made was a feat in itself. From the onslaught the production was plagued with some serious setbacks including last summer's terrible flooding in Prague the film's main location which damaged prop houses and a few of the elaborate sets including Nemo's ship the Nautilus. There were also rumored problems between star/executive producer Connery and director Stephen Norrington (Blade) wherein Connery believed Norrington was taking too long to make the film. This could be one of the reasons League is majorly flawed: nothing seems cohesive and it suffers in its execution. The action sequences are a mess--too dark and confusing you aren't quite sure who's doing what to whom. The special effects are run of the mill nothing spectacular save for the Nautilus which does loom large in the water like a steely shark. In fact League's sets are one the film's few assets especially the inside of the ship with its opulent Eastern decor and Dorian's dilapidated waterfront lodgings. The complex themes the film brings up are only glossed over such as the evils of an industrial age and of a scientific world gone mad as well as the idea of using formidable literary characters with strange superpowers to do good. Instead the film goes for the easy action-thriller way out--and doesn't even do a good job at it. League just doesn't live up to its potential.

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