The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: An extra ordinary action flick

July 14, 2003, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 17 years, 6 months ago

Make no mistake: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is definitely and ultimately a 2-hour excuse to fire lots of movie-prop guns, bleed lots of movie-fake blood, and flex lots of special-effects enhanced muscle. Pick an action movie cliché at random, and this movie probably has it in spades. But the premise is just so darn cool.

Adopted from a graphic novel by the same name, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen takes place in 1899, which as the scrolling text at the beginning of the movie tells us (think Star Wars), is technologically impaired. That is, of course, until the opening scene, where heavily armed ‘German' soldiers and a fur-wearing masked man rumble down the street in a massive tank, slam through an English bank, steal some stuff, and then kill all but one guard with automatic weapons. This point is further rammed into our skulls in the next scene, where the same creepy mask guy and a band of ‘English' soldiers (the same German soldiers from before) raid a German facility, kidnap some scientists, pump some onlookers full of lead, and blow up some zeppelins.

With the entire world on the brink of war (I guess we're supposed to assume that the masked dude and his roving band of interchangeable soldiers have attacked other places), Her Majesty sends Sanderson Reed (Tom Goodman-Hill) to Africa to recruit legendary hunter Allan Quatermain (Connery), or so Reed claims. Quatermain is on the verge of turning him down when they are attacked by the same soldier guys, sans their furry leader. A cheesy (by which I mean typical) fight scene ensues, with Quatermain taking out nine or ten heavily armed and armored bad dudes with a single-shot rifle, various pieces of furniture, and his bare fists. He even has the composure to remember that one of them escaped, and walks outside to find the guy running into the distance. He pulls out his rifle, and after grabbing his glasses, shoots the guy in the leg from, oh, I dunno, 900 feet. When the villagers drag the guy back he quickly swallows some poison, so Quatermain can't question him. How convenient. Quatermain soon thereafter agrees to go back to England with Reed.

Now comes the exciting part: meeting the rest of the characters. After the film introduces M (Richard Roxburgh), the organizer of the League, the other members start filtering in. First is Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame. The Invisible Man's protégé, Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), is next, although he's harder to notice. After him comes Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), whose sole purpose it seems is to recruit Dorian Gray (Stuart Townshend), an invulnerable murderer from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Tom Sawyer (Shane West) is permitted to join the League because of Quatermain's appreciation of Sawyer's firearm after he saves them from an ambush at Gray's house, or so it seems. Last on the list is Dr. Jeykll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), who is rampaging across the rooftops of Paris as the CG-animated Hyde. Soon after they capture him he reverts back to the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll, and all is set.

So there are some cool dudes with some cool abilities in this League. The Invisible Man is, well, invisible. Gray is invincible and doesn't age (so long as he never looks at the portrait of himself that ages for him). Dr. Jekyll's got the whole Mr. Hyde thing going on. Mina is really a vampire and the wife of the guy who killed Dracula. Captain Nemo has some way cool gadgets, like a Rolls Royce clone and a giant submarine shaped like a sword. And Tom Sawyer is just Tom Sawyer—the comic relief. But of all these cool literary figures, Quatermain is the leader (insomuch as there is one). His power? Um… he's accurate?

Actually, more likely Quatermain is the leader because he's played by Sean Connery, the only major actor on the entire cast (although pretty boy Shane West is a close second). Connery turns in a passable, if uninspired performance as the aging hunter, while the rest of the performances range from decent (comic-relief Curran and West) to stony (Shah and Wilson). It doesn't help that each character has the same singular motivation of confronting their past evils, and that this theme is so painfully obvious. Quatermain lost his son on an expedition and feels responsible, Nemo has his pirating days to atone for, Gray was once a murderer, and Mina lives by sucking other people's blood.

On the plus side, the fight scenes are cool, though not awe-inspiring, even in their impossibility. Also, the dark, dreary scenery and spooky music tastefully spattered here and there add to the overall evil feel to of the movie. Finally, the dialogue is particularly inspired, cutting away from the typical action movie clichés and one-liners.

Despite adhering strictly to the Action Movie Handbook, which demands the requisite number of unnecessary plot twists, traitors, and character deaths, and of course, an unresolved ending (do I smell an LKG2?), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is almost good, coming across as a sort of Mystery Men squared. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend two hours.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence, language and innuendo.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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