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THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
U.S. Release Date: July 11, 2003
Distributor: Fox
Producer: Mark Gordon (executive), Don Murphy
Composer: Trevor Jones
Cast: Sean Connery
Running Time: 1 hour and 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of fantasy violence, language and innuendo)

Extraordinarily Dull
by C.A. Wolski

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen isn't so much a terrible movie as it is frightfully dull. There is a good (not great) picture desperately trying to break out of Blade director Stephen Norrington's adaptation of the Alan Moore-Kevin O'Neill graphic novel of the same name about famous 19th century literary characters joining forces, but it is bogged down by lackluster performances and an absolutely inchoate script by James Dale Robinson.

The premise is intriguing. At the dawn of the 20th century a faceless menace, known only as the Fantom and his minions have created several international incidents that have tipped the world toward war. To combat this evil, the British government recruits several anti-heroes: adventurer Alan Quartermain (Sean Connery), pirate Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde, the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and an invisible man (Tony Curran), but not the one from H.G. Wells' novel it's explained in passing. Joining this band is a grown up Tom Sawyer (horribly miscast Shane West), now an agent of the U.S. government. Their mission is simple, stop Fantom and keep the world from sliding into war. On paper, it's a great concept. In execution, it's far from it.

Granted this is an adventure picture, but there is nary any character development and the back stories are murky at best (unless one has a good liberal arts education, several turn of events will be completely unfathomable, particularly when the real identity of Fantom is revealed). For instance, throughout it is indicated that Harker and Gray had a relationship, but no details are given. Nor is it fully explained why Harker can be exposed to sunlight (in Dracula, the count could go out in sunlight, but he did not have his vampire powers).

League does have some nice touches. The Jekyll/Hyde duality is nicely portrayed, and Nemo is a strong character, albeit the choice to make him Turkish is rather odd given that Jules Verne, a supporter of the Polish nationalist cause, originally wrote him as a Polish aristocrat.

But, fundamentally, audiences don't go to an action picture to revel in their knowledge of the classics or quibble about interpretations (that's the critic's job), they want to be entertained and astounded. League's major set pieces, an attack on Venice that seems to be largely successful, including the sinking of St. Mark's, and the attack on the evil Fantom's lair are both rendered in slapdash video game fashion. The final sequence is such a mess, it's doubtful any audience member could follow what's happening—or really care.

And that's League's fundamental problem. In the end, there is nothing and no one to care about. Since almost all of the main characters are immortal, they can't get hurt or die. Since they have no mortal values except the vague "keep the world safe" trope, there's no stake in them. Basically, the movie can be boiled down to this: characters get together, dodge bullets, kill a bunch of faceless bad guys and save the world. There is no doubt, no question that the heroes will win, even when they have a few setbacks here and there.

The production design has a cool retro-science fiction feel to it, though the anachronistic nature of Nemo's Nautilus with its sonar, solar panels, and wireless telegraphy gets to be a bit much. Dorian Gray's lair and the bad guy's hide out are also rendered nicely.

The acting is much less well rendered. Sean Connery's Quartermain is rather muted. However, even sleep walking through a role, he's better than most up and comers half his age. The rest of the cast isn't given much to do other than play their parts as types, so they come off as cardboard cartoons. The only real standout is Peta Wilson (TV's La Femme Nikita). She actually brings some depth and life to her lifeless role. Hopefully this will get her noticed by the powers that be, and she's cast in her own action flick. She's eminently watchable and has an intelligence that the typical eye-candy action heroine doesn't always display.

In the end, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is just a ho-hum kiddie ride pretending to be something more.


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