Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nothing Extraordinary With These Gentlemen: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The Good: Intriguing idea, Good acting
The Bad: Poor script, Lack of character exploration, Physical darkness, Plodding plot
The Basics: When the world is set on the verge of war in an alternate 1899, various fictional heroes come together to try to stop an uninspired villain in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I am always skeptical about movies that are based on comic books. There's a reason they are two different mediums. I suspended my skepticism sometimes and my viewing of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen was one of those times. It was also one of the times I was disappointed by an adaptation of a comic book to a movie. And it wasn't the adaptation that bothered me - I've never read the graphic novel on which this movie was based - it was the fact that this was a less than decent movie. This flick did not live up to the expectations I had for it.

When a rogue villain known only as the Phantom makes several independent attacks on important locations within Britain and Germany in 1899, adventurer Allan Quatermain is recruited by the mysterious M for a mission to stop him. Quatermain is not alone. He has been recruited to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a top-secret and apparently ancient order that has been quietly protecting Britain for many many years. Quatermain is joined by Captain Nemo (and his amazing Nautilus), Mina Harker (a vampire), Rodney Skinner (an invisible man), Dorian Gray (an indestructible man), and Tom Sawyer. They - for no reason that is clearly explained - capture Dr. Jekyll and compel him to join the League and then they set off for Venice to stop the Phantom. However, the League is plagued by a saboteur from within and the world seems destined for war.

First, the good, because it was that kind of movie. The characters are well-acted. Shane West, for example, earns his second billing by being more than simply a good-looking guy. He is confident in the role of Sawyer, making him distinctly different from his Once And Again character (Eli) and earning his paycheck. Similarly, Peta Wilson does a good job with what little she has to work with for Mena. It's disappointing that her role was not bigger or better, but she makes due with what she was given. That is admirable, if not extraordinary.

Even Stuart Townsend does a good job at creating Dorian Gray as a viable character. He is cold and ruthless in the role and he does his best to make the clothes fit. The real waste of talent here is in the form of Jason Flemyng. Flemyng was electrifying in The Red Violin and here he is relegated to the back of the group. Flemyng manages to keep his acting talents foremost through consideration the director had for him; his Mr. Hyde character is not completely CGed, allowing for Flemyng's expressiveness and emotional gravitas to be expressed.

But there the good ends.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is plagued by a poor script. The first big problem is in the form of the saboteur within the League. The prime suspect is, naturally, the invisible man. Why? He has access. The moment accusations start flying in Skinner's direction, though, his character completely disappears from the movie. Zip. He's gone. It doesn't take much of a brain at all to realize that he is a red herring and one of the other members of the League is the real spy. The moment it is suggested, however, that Skinner is not the spy, the real villain is exposed. After all of the time spent building up that Skinner was it, the movie could have respected the audience's mood enough to indulge in the paranoia of the possibilities of the identity of the saboteur.

The reason it doesn't is that the spy is obvious from the very beginning. It's not a complex revelation and the moment the person reveals themselves, there is more of a "yeah, okay" feeling than "oh my! I didn't see THAT coming!"

And the big problem is that the characters are not delved into the way they deserve to be. Mena Harker, for instance, is a fascinating choice to include in the League. Why is she there? I don't know. Moreover, I'm not sure why she can walk around in sunlight; "Dracula"-style vampires (which is where her origins are) are unable to do so. Her relationship with Dorian Gray is fascinating and established in the movie, yet director Stephen Norrington insists on panning to Harker's surprise when Quatermain tells a story about their meeting.

Harker is not the only one; none of the characters truly come to life. They are all bound by serious limits and a complete failure to explore their personalities and potentials fully. Add to that, the movie is dark. I do not mean thematically (those who know my reviews know I enjoy thematically dark films), but rather physically. Photographically, much of the movie is too dark to appreciate the details created. A prime example is the underwater scenes of the Nautilus where the propellers and such are illustrated. The scene is so dark, it's hard to tell what it is the viewer is supposed to be seeing in the water. All of the detail of the ship (submarine) is lost.

In the end, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a good idea with a poor theatrical execution. A good idea cannot save a bad movie and this is a decent example of that theory. While it begins with enough intrigue, it does not maintain it and it is not nearly as clever or surprising as one would think it is trying to be.

For other films featuring Jason Flemyng, be sure to check out my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
Clash Of The Titans
The Red Violin


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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