The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
review by Gregory Avery, 27 June 2003

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a chaotic mess, but it starts out oh, so elegantly and oh, so promisingly. An aged Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), the explorer hero of several Conan Doyle adventures, is lured (or blown, as in "explosive") out of retirement in Kenya, goes to London, and is led into a secret chamber (with a Freemason symbol on the door) to help avert a possible world war in the year 1899 by meeting with an intelligence operative chief who introduces himself as "M" (and is played by Richard Roxburgh).

Quatermain's mission, should he choose to accept it, is to become part of a special team that is a sort of Victorian Justice League- -- Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), in East Indian attire and with the "Nautilus" parked outside (the submarine's the best thing in the film -- a gigantic silver prow, with an interior done in ivory and white and designed like a maharajah's palace); a "gentleman thief" (Tony Curran) who stole the formula from H.G. Wells' Invisible Man and is now invisible himself; Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend, who hits just the right sultry note of a true sensualist), recruited for his ability at immortality and for how he drapes himself over the furniture; Mina Harker (Peta Wilson, who's the other best thing in the picture -- she is a wow), wife of Jonathan Harker and herself an accomplished chemist (her special abilities will remain a secret in this review, though); and an American Secret Service agent (Shane West) who's a crack shot and is named Tom Sawyer. They stop in Paris, so the film can make a reference to a famous Edgar Allan Poe story, and to pick up Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, both of whom are supposed to be played by Jason Flemyng, although the latter looks more like a cross between the Hulk and a very angry Gary Busey. Then, it's off to go up against a nemesis named the Fantom -- a one-eyed silver mask hides his scarred face -- who's planning on unleashing prototype military tanks and machine guns on the nations of the world. There's a betrayal (not hard to figure out by whom), a summit meeting in Venice during the annual carnival, and a trip to a snowy castle that's been converted into a munitions plant and looks like a nightmare version of an Industrial Age gas works.

But as soon as the first action scene hit, I wondered: why did they hired Stephen Norrington to direct? Norrington did Blade, which, after the first seven minutes, I found to be unwatchable, for the same reasons as here: Norrington puts the camera very close to the flivver and flurry, and then throws what he gets all together onto the screen and sees what sticks. After a while, a resigned feeling sets in as you give up on trying to figure out what you're supposed to be following or even looking at. The movie loses track of one of its main characters for a long stretch of time, and it can't keep its multiple plotlines straight when it reaches the home stretch, reducing everything to complete incoherence. The movie's ending also has the distinction of being the worst I can recall seeing since the awful tacked-on one -- done without Clive Barker's approval or participation -- to the 1990 film, Nightbreed.

This picture is said to have had a troubled production, which may account for why it alternates between some beautifully-written scenes and crass ones with trite Shane Blackisms like when Connery looks at a British flag fluttering down over a guy he just walloped and says, "Rule Britannia". (Actually, not all that different from what he was given to say when he was playing James Bond.) There are a lot of excuses to create fights and to blow things up, and a lot of plot turns that don't make sense well after you've left the theater. A lot of people have been expressing disappointment over movies nowadays, and this film is not exception: for all the trouble its makers have gone to, it should have been smarter, more pleasing, more easy to look at, and instead it ends up like a failed scrimmage, albeit an extravagant one, and albeit an ultimately dismissable one.

Directed by:
Stephen Norrington

Starring:
Sean Connery
Richard Roxburgh
Naseeruddin Shah
Tony Curran
Peta Wilson
Stuart Townsend
Shane West
Jason Flemyng
David Hemmings.

Written by:
James Dale Robinson

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate
for children under 13.

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