The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

Post  BoG on Wed Mar 25, 2015 1:52 am

MASTER PLAN: take over the world, basically. This film captures a flavor, in a bottle as it were, of that brief period just after the Victorian Age and just before the 20th century modernization enveloped most of the world. The world here seems to be on the cusp of unveiling all sorts of modern marvels and gizmos, similar to the taste of, for example, "The Assassination Bureau" film of the sixties. Otherwise, there is very little similarity between the two films; this one, appropo the times, is darker, more crude, even grotesque in places. This one also takes the later super-hero premise, wraps it with some James Bond-style action and, utilizing a lot of computer FX, retrofits the old heroes of the 19th century to fit the mold of their 20th century descendants; the old heroes, who were copied by the later super-heroes, are now revamped to imitate the 20th century super-heroes - a complete circle, as it were.
This is based on the graphic novels (comic books) of famed writer Alan Moore, who had a more cynical and edgy take on these heroes. In his original version, old hero Allan Quatermain had become an opium addict and prim Mina Harker did not hide her disgust at the hero's degeneration. By contrast, the film versions of these characters are more bland and more heroic - Peta Wilson is still very enticing as the now superhuman Mina, but lead Sean Connery, the ex-James Bond himself, evidently quite taken with his own heroic standing, refused to succumb to such a malady on film. And, indeed, such a fallen hero may have dragged down a 2-hour film; this is another instance of the so-called comic books presenting a more rich and layered version of a story (the "Daredevil" comic books vs. the film also come to mind), probably because they have the luxury of exploring the characters over the course of several months in a series of graphic issues.
On the surface, at least, much of what Alan Moore presented has been transposed faithfully to film: Quatermain is recruited, along with several other unusual gentlemen and one lady, for a mission to save the world. Quatermain is sitting out his golden years in Kenya (small role for David Hemmings during these early scenes), but there's an attack by a tank on the Bank of England, prompting a British agent to call on Quatermain for help. Already at this early stage of the story, the drawbacks make themselves evident - too much gunfire, too much rattling of the premises, shaking, explosions - it's all meant to impress and just makes me weary. This obsessive quality about all the computer visuals works against the characters, who are admittedly an interesting bunch at first glance. Captain Nemo and his wondrous sub-marine, the sneaky Invisible Man, the smooth & immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and the very brutish Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) are all here, as well as a grown Tom Sawyer (Shane West) as the American agent. One of them may be a traitor - this is somewhat new. But, they and the sleek sub become marginally interesting - the heroes aren't give much to do or say, while the sub soon comes across as a cartoon, cutting through the ocean waters. And, less interesting, Sawyer becomes the focal point of the subplots, bonding with Quatermain and attempting romance with Mina.

The main villain, the Fantom, who has unlimited resources of men and mechanical power at his disposal, turns out to be another infamous nemesis from famous literature. Some may think that Hyde was overdone with use of the FX, but he does resemble the graphic novel version - a retro version of the Hulk, huge and beastly - though he was not allowed to dismember as much on screen. No, the overuse of computer FX is in the spectacular scenes of destruction and ignorance of common physics - this is where it strays too far into silly comic book land. Connery as Quatermain, for example, is in good shape for his age and suitably heroic, but when he jumps from a fancy automobile which is moving at 50 mph, he lands on his feet as if he'd just stepped off a porch. When another hero is struck by a super-villain, he careens 40 feet through the air without injury. So, you realize in such moments, you really are in some alternate universe, not in a stylized 1898 or 1899 as first presented. Viewed in such a context, it's an acceptable adventure, with enough thrills and climactic derring-do to keep a viewer at least slightly intrigued. I will say, too, the villain's ultimate goal was intriguing; I picture a platoon of invisible men, a brigade of Hydes. It made me wonder about a sequel, briefly. I was, however, more intrigued by the more sophisticated graphic novel version. Ah, well. BoG's Scores - Heroes:6 Villain:6 Femme Fatales:6 Henchmen:5 Fights:6 Stunts/Chases:7 Gadgets:6 Auto:6 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:6
League of Trivia:
Connery was reportedly upset with the director and, therefore, the direction of the film, making this his final starring role; he retired, but came away with a huge paycheck - about $17 million. Quatermain was previously on film in two movies in the mid-eighties, in which he was essayed by Richard Chamberlain and which hoped to capitalize on the success of the Indiana Jones franchise, but it hadn't worked out that way.
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