The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie review

A scene from 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'
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*1/2 stars
112 minutes | Rated: PG-13
WIDE: Friday, July 11, 2003
Directed by Stephen Norrington

Starring Sean Connery, Shane West, Stuart Townsend, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Jason Flemyng, Naseeruddin Shah, Richard Roxburgh, David Hemmings, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill


Could only be more lame and lifeless without the big-screen image to keep you awake.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 12.15.2003

  • Stephen Norrington
  • Sean Connery
  • Shane West
  • Stuart Townsend
  • Tony Curran
  • Jason Flemyng
  • Richard Roxburgh

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    Lifeless 'League' dumps classic 19th century fictional heroes into lame summer action template

    By Rob Blackwelder

    Adapted from a comic book chock full of literary allusions but summer-movie-ized for the Cliff's Notes set, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is predictably packed with flash and completely devoid of life.

    A turn-of-the-20th-century action flick that tries to evoke an antediluvian "Batman"-ish atmosphere with dark, overzealous production design, this convoluted dud stars Sean Connery as famous fictional British explorer-adventurer Allan Quartermain, who is persuaded to recruit a cadre of period legends to help bring down a terrorist organization bent on starting a world war.

    The team consists of Jules Verne's submariner Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), H.G. Wells' Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), "Dracula" vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Oscar Wilde's portrait-dependent immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and a yee-haw Secret Service agent named Tom Sawyer (Shane West) -- yes, that Tom Sawyer -- who was shoe-horned into the script to Americanize the story for U.S. audiences.

    Their theatrically scarred and masked nemesis calls himself the Fantom (clearly meant to suggest the one "of the Opera"), and his ambition is to cause unrest in Europe, then make millions selling his new state-of-the-art weaponry to warring nations. This gives writer James Dale Robinson and director Stephen Norrington ("Blade") carte blanche to roll out tanks, machine guns, automobiles, missiles and other action-friendly technology that didn't exist at the time. And roll them out they do, ad nauseum, to the detriment of character development and, more often than not, common sense.

    Trekking around the world in Nemo's florid underwater luxury fortress the Nautilus, the League tracks the Fantom to Venice, where -- while trying to stop an attack that may demolish the city during a crucial summit -- the super-sub somehow stalks up and down the narrow canals without being noticed even though it's the size of an office block. When the sub can't go any further, Tom Sawyer breaks out a 1930s-style muscle car and races through the cobblestone streets as if he's in the Grand Prix.

    Each character gets a showcase scene or two for his or her "extraordinary" talents during the routine explosions, shootouts and mano-a-mano showdowns that follow. But the only one worth mentioning is Dr. Jekyll's epileptic transformation into a 10-foot-tall, uber-steroidal, cro-magnon monster that smashes up everything in its path. Both visually (the special effects for Mr. Hyde are realistically uncanny) and psychologically (Jekyll desperately tries to suppress Hyde, who relishes his rampages of destruction), this character is everything Ang Lee's pouty, self-pitying "Hulk" should have been.

    Soon the Fantom gives away his real identity (it's the film's one clever nod to period literature), exposes a double-agent within their ranks, twists his mustache and reveals his whole sinister plan to the heroes as he thinks they're about to die -- thus inviting a demise as banal as it is inevitable.

    With the exception of Flemyng ("Below," "From Hell") as Jekyll and Hyde, the cast members mostly phone in their underwritten, one-character-trait performances. The actors probably didn't even show up for most of their often-asinine action scenes (machine-gunning baddies are easily taken down by knives or even just fists), since the editing is so over-caffeinated and choppy that stunt men could have stood in 95 percent of the time.

    Plagued by blatantly sloppy incontinuity (immediately after being shot, a character's hole-riddled clothes are suddenly repaired without explanation) and a plot that frequently advances only by becoming ridiculous (how does the Invisible Man survive a naked reconnaissance mission around the Fantom's frozen-wasteland mountain hideout?), this film is nothing short of an embarrassment.

    I don't expect genius from my summer popcorn movies, but I do expect an attempt at imagination and a genuine effort toward rising to a picture's potential. "The League" has none of that. It's strictly bottom-feeding, paint-by-numbers multiplex fare. In fact, it's everything that's wrong with modern summer movies.


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