THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN review
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a film that requires a complicated review. You see the film is neither great nor terrible, but both all at once.
You see when it is working, I was transported, when it isn’t, I’m laughing at just how awful it is. The result is ultimately a very frustrating film experience for someone that wanted so much for the film to soar, but ultimately is just an unfulfilling experience.
Now before you go… If you love the comic and you’re expecting to see that first wonderful adventure of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill on screen, well… DON’T. Changes are rampant throughout the film. I’d made my peace with most of these changes, figuring that I’d just let the film attempt to just entertain me as though the comic never existed, because after all… they are capturing the original tone of the material, even if it isn’t the original story.
That being said, many of the changes just don’t work. It isn’t that I’m against change, it was just not for the better.
The Tom Sawyer addition is and has been the most controversial change for fans of the original material. He’s there for a couple of reasons. One, he’s an entry character for Americans that seemingly won’t be able to otherwise associate with these heroes, unless one of their own is in the foray. Personally, there’s no “American” in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and I believe you’ll see that film do fine, and that folks will associate just great. But, fine… he’s there. More importantly he’s there to give Connery’s Quatermain a surrogate son character to teach and care for and to remind him of the son he lost on a prior adventure. That’s a noble and nice character beat to shoot after, but it just doesn’t work for me. Sawyer is also there to give Mina Harker a possible romantic attachment closer to her “visual” age. The problem with this is that it weakens the characters of both Quatermain and Mina Harker. Originally in the comic they found solace in each other in a manner of speaking. Mina was the leader in the original comic, and Quatermain was one of her heroes, a fallen one… riddled with doubt, angered by his aging… in many ways a hero having to learn to be one again. INSTEAD, that rather interesting character arc is divided and spread out to an additional character that… frankly isn’t really necessary and is ultimately unsatisfying. PLUS – it is just hard sometimes to just get past the obvious literary problems with having Sawyer portrayed the way he is here. Most don’t remember Twain’s TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE children story, but the key problem is… Tom Sawyer was 12 before the start of the Civil War, meaning that in 1899, he’d be nearing his mid fifties at least… And certainly wouldn’t be the inheritor of the 20th Century as stated in the film. Personally going with a character like Tom Swift or Horatio Alger if you had to go with an American literary character, would have made far more sense, but alas… this is ultimately a very small problem in a film with bigger problems.
Now I said earlier that there was quite a bit that I did like… and before my review gets too dominated with “PROBLEMS,” I want to go into some of what I liked... and even loved, but... First off, the day before I saw LEAGUE, I got the following letter from comic co-creator Kevin O’Neill:
“I have seen LEAGUE and it is SPECTACULAR!!!!
Hi Harry, Kevin O’Neill here. I am the co creator of the LEAGUE comic book
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an alternate reality treatment of our source material. Alan and I got to play with many fictional icons and now the filmmakers get to play with them in their version – and what a wild and spectacular time they have!!!! Great makeup and special effects, lush production design and a wonderful cast. Tony Curran runs close to the creepiness of Hawley Griffin and Peta Wilson is smart and beautiful as Mina Harker and deserves a lot more screen time.
Sure I’d like to have seen our Nautilus on screen and Mina leading the group…but Sean Connery (our original model for Quatermain, by the way) is an icon playing and icon. Given the odds of anything coming close to the source in movies, our title has been treated with rare good taste.
Fans of the comic with open minds will really enjoy the film!”
That letter gave me quite a bit of hope. And when I went to see the film I was comforted by the fact that one of the comic’s original creators seemed to enjoy the hell out of the film and have only minor regrets. That’s a good start.
Well as the movie started, everything was going good. Other than a badly designed “Phantom” villain, everything else was going smoothly for me till we got Hyde in chains. This sequence is one of the few laughably awful moments in the film. The audience of “critics” I saw the film with were laughing out loud by how terrible this scene was. Now, I want to be clear here… I like the make up on HYDE, love the “hunt” scene leading up to this one. Watching him run across the rooftops of Paris is a great pleasure. Watching Quatermain hunt him and guide his movements and forcing Hyde into his trap… All very good, very happy… But then Hyde is in chains, has a bit of dialogue… ok, still good, then he goes to transform back into Jekyll and… whew… For me, the greatest character transformation in film history is David Naughton’s werewolf change in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. For me, nothing in the world of CG has ever been this real, this brutal and that perfect. Here.. EDGE FX’s Hyde looks good, looks, as O’Neill says, nearly exactly like his illustration, but the transformation back is terrible. It seems the idea was to do it all with make up, but it just went horribly wrong. You see, they have these lovely appliances of Hyde in various mid-moments of transformation back into Jekyll and it seems the plan was to have the actor in the various appliances twist for the camera, cut… put him in a new one, twist the other way, cut, put him in a new one till they ultimately had no make up at all and Jason Flemyng is left standing there… shivering. CLUMSY, FUNKY, BAD. It’s just a moment, but the sort of SO AWFUL moment that you’re left gasping at how on earth it could possibly be in a film that at this point was quite nicely put together.
You see, before that moment, we had all the main character introductions and they were nicely handled.
Connery in Africa was nice as Quatermain… every bit the legend you’d expect. Naseeruddin Shah as Captain Nemo exudes cool. Tony Curran’s Rodney Skinner (a Invisible Man character) may be a poor substitute for Jack Griffin’s barely constrained homicidal original Invisible man, but he’s still a nice character – and I like the application of the crÃ¨me make-up and the way the actor played that. Very nice. Peta Wilson’s Mina Harker is note perfect, I just wish there was a lot more of her.
Now, Stuart Townsend’s Dorian Gray is a new character… and an interesting foil / companion with Peta’s Mina Harker. Ultimately, he wasn’t in the original comic, and here serves to divide and take attention off of Mina and Quatermain’s relationship – which I guess just wasn’t “sexy enough” as written in the comic, hell it wasn’t sexy at all… it was just well written. HOWEVER, Dorian Gray is a very nice character in his own right here, even if Stuart’s disaffected blasÃ© performance can get a bit too self-aware at times, it works.
Hell, even the introduction of Sawyer’s character isn’t bad, it’s quite nice. The way he gets Quatermain to allow him to join was nicely done.
Prior to that Hyde transformational misstep, the only moments that hadn’t worked for me were each and every moment that the Phantom was on screen. His look is just… TERRIBLE. I hated this character. And not in an “earned” way, but in a “this is a horribly realized character,” way. His look is just pure bad TV comic book villain look. His acting, bad. The only thing about him that’s cool is his plan, which I won’t spoil, but he and all his henchmen suck on screen. They’re just bad characters, especially in light of the “heroes” on board. And when you get to all the twists and the end showdown between Quatermain and the Phantom… there’s a simple problem. The actor playing the Phantom is a good actor in a bad part, but what’s worse is… NOT FOR ONE SECOND do I accept that his face wouldn’t be turned into a “catcher’s mitt” the second Connery hauled off and slugged him. Had there been a badass MAN playing this role… someone like a Sean Bean type of actor… someone that I believe might be able to humanly survive one of Connery’s John Wayne/Yakima Canutt style from the shoulder “Punches Of Death” and might even be able to throw a punch that I would believe could phase or even cause Connery to perhaps blink… But this fucking creampuff pansy they put opposite Quatermain… TERRIBLE.
You see… In a HERO and VILLAIN film – your heroes are only as great as your villains make them. As a result – while I may like the “heroes” of this film, the villains are all just completely half-assed. I kept wondering why the villain even needed to make an appearance at any of the “missions” that he went on. He wanted to keep his identity secret – and given the literary origins of the true identity of the Phantom, he would NEVER go on missions – he was a master manipulator, a man of shadows, someone that just never left his lair yet controlled or aspired to control the world beyond, so that one day he would emerge in his rightful position as the master of all he surveyed. If you were to actually place that character against Quatermain – it’d be hopeless… The Phantom would have planned for his escape had a force assaulted his headquarters… there’d been secret passages, pneumatic transportation, and the fact is… Quatermain would never have been so lucky as to even land a punch, but unfortunately – the character is so badly written and realized that he comes across as a mildly clever regular run-of-the-mill villain. Ultimately… that’s sad.
What I love about the film is the visual look, the design (with the exception of the Phantom and the Car). When you have a film that has so much beauty and exception creativity placed in the visual manifestation of the project, it hurts to feel let down by all the smaller and greater details.
In a way it’s a lot like THE PHANTOM or THE SHADOW. Two movies with gorgeous production design, fun characters but ultimately not entirely satisfying, yet I still own both because I enjoy the visual feel of the film. Watching that Nautilus steaming ahead… or emerging from the depths… wonderful. The way bullet holes melt off of Dorian. The way Connery hits – wonderful. The look of Venice, London, Paris and even Mongolia… wonderful. It is a very handsome production, with much to like, just more to dislike.
In my PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN review, I essentially refer to this film as DRIPPINGS.
Drippings are the sauce, fluids left after you cook a steak, a roast, prime rib, a turkey… It’s the liquefied fats and greases flavored by the meat and spices that you’ve rubbed and beaten into the main course. They are the tasty, albeit ultimately non-filling remains of a meaty morsel. That is THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. It’s a great base for a nice sausage gravy… meaning you can watch this and taste the essence of what might have been, but ultimately… the meat is gone. The action is clumsy, the villains lame and there are laughably bad scenes throughout. HOWEVER, there’s beautiful designs, pretty cool heroes and great moments. The total experience though for me was a pretty huge disappointment. The source material was so smart, so well conceived, that to see a film that reminds me in ways of a less entertaining Victorian nitty gritty spectacle – that reminds me of the exact same issues with the Dino DeLaurentis FLASH GORDON – which has beautiful production design, moments that sail, music that roars, but MANY LAUGHABLY BAD TERRIBLE MOMENTS throughout… and ultimately I greatly prefer that FLASH GORDON to this as this is never as alive… but it is a shadow of its source material, something that too many will never know. Perhaps in a couple of decades, some one will come along and nail it, but for now… this is not it.