Movie Review

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  • Reviewed Format: Wide Theatrical Release
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Stars: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh
  • Writer: James Robinson, based on the comic by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
  • Director: Stephen Norrington
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox


Literature's classic "super" heroes get a LEAGUE of their own

By Eric Moro     July 11, 2003

© 20th Century Fox
Marketed as the world's first superhero team for a movie-going audience that just can't get enough live-action comic book adaptations, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (LXG) is a premise best suited for the four-color pages from whence it came. Uniting literature's greatest heroes for a steampunk adventure that would make Jules Verne proud works as an illustrated narrative, but by the time it makes it up onto the big screen, it inherently de-evolves into something more forced and clichéd. Something that solid performances from lead Sean Connery and up-and-comer Shane West can't even salvage.

The backdrop for LXG is a very ambiguous period in world history. The film opens in London with the Victorian Era drawing to a close and the uncertainty of the 20th century fast approaching. Within minutes, it becomes obvious that England is in need of champions heroes unafraid of the mysterious, supernatural and/or impossible. Enter Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Rodney Skinner (a.k.a. The Invisible Man), Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, Mrs. Mina Harker, Dorian Gray and U.S. secret service agent Tom Sawyer.

Recruited by the enigmatic "M," these seven adventurers who become known as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are pressed into service by the empire in its time of need. Their mission: to thwart the evil Phantom and his plan for world domination. But as is the case with most action films, things are not entirely as they seem. A traitor in their ranks, allied with the Phantom, works to bring down the League no matter what the cost. But can the world survive where the League cannot?


First and foremost, the filmmakers and perhaps even more importantly the studio execs that green lit this project should be given a round of applause. Instead of the usual action dribble that typically haunts the summer, these "gentlemen" opted to submit their entry into the genre by adapting what can be considered one of comic book creator Alan Moore's greatest works. Not only does the writer succeed at telling an action-packed four-color tale, but he does so by taking the educational route. He utilizes literature's greatest icons not the spandex clad superheroes made popular in Silver Age comics to weave a story comparable to any modern day X-Men adventure. Unfortunately, that same level of dynamic characters doesn't seem to translate into live-action.

Perhaps it was the addition of LEAGUE-mates Gray and Sawyer, or the decision to make Harker a full-fledged vampire rather then a "vampire survivor" that weakened the team's dynamic. Perhaps it was the fact that an entire film could have been crafted around this unique team's gathering, rather then covering it in a few scenes that left the story lacking. Perhaps it's the actuality that, when written for this rendition, the characters come off sounding less iconic and more clichéd. (When asked if a sailor on the Nautilus is Nemo's first mate, he replies, "Call me Ishmael." When shown a photo of the villainous masked Phantom, Quartermain replies, "How operatic.") These are not the same characters that, when written by Moore's adept hand, maintain the level of originality that make them some of literature's classics.

And of the film's visuals, it's always exciting to see hi-tech machinery concepted using the imagery of an early epoch (hence, the popularity of the steampunk movement). But again, this is a quality of the comic book adaptation that is best suited for artist Kevin O'Neill's pen. Hollywood's answer to breathing life into illustrations is to render them using CGI. The result: a sea-faring Nautilus that looks more at home in this summer's FINDING NEMO than it does in a live-action feature. But not all of LXG's special effects look out of place. On the contrary, Mr. Hyde looks quite good in this theatrical setting and quite similar to the version employed by O'Neill in the comic.

Ultimately, a film boils down to its performances and two in particular stand out in this movie that of Connery's Quartermain and West's Sawyer. Not only does the veteran actor bring a dignity and reverence to his character, but the up-and-comer also manages to bring a youthful excitement and eagerness to his. When played off each other in the form of a pseudo father-son relationship, the two complement each other beautifully.

While it's almost certain that today's audiences won't appreciate the impact made by a teaming of these extraordinary characters, those familiar with their classic literary exploits will perhaps be better served picking up the comic book series that inspired the film. And fans of the four-color adventure will perhaps be more interested in the cameo appearance of Moore and O'Neill's names on a series of background posters, and of the allusions to something strange on Mars (a nod to the second volume of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN comics) than to the film itself.

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