Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG)

Standing in a circle giving one-liners, THE MOVIE!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (20th Century Fox, 2003). At the turn of the 20th century, the world is besieged by a rash of crimes and kidnappings that sets nations on the brink of war.

I've read "The Phantom of the Opera." I don't think he's meant to be a "mastermind" sort of villain, but whatever.

In an effort to apprehend the villainous "Phantom," a secret service headed by a man calling himself "M" (Richard Roxburgh) recruits a cadre of adventurers with incredible skills and amazing powers.
What does the "M" stand for? Mycroft Holmes, perhaps...? (SPOILERS: NO)

There's legendary hunter Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery in his final (?) role),
"I don't undershtand this shtory, but I'll do it!"

invisible thief Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran),
The invisible cockney.

the amazing inventor and commander of the "Nautilus" submarine Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah),
"Go ahead: Just one Kwik-E-Mart joke and I will destroy you!"

vampirically-powered scientist Mina Harker (Peta Wilson),
La Femme Suck-ikta.

the mild-mannered Doctor Henry Jekyll and his monstrous alter-ego Edmond Hyde (Jason Flemyng),
"Well Mishter Hyde, we meet again under different Shircumshtances." 

and the indestructible immortal dandy Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend).
"I'm irredeemably unlikable so you'll cheer when I die! Rawr!"

They are joined by young American agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West) in an effort to stop the eruption of a world war!
"Keep it together. You're not just an insert character to serve wounded American pride. You're not!"

Some background

This film is twenty years old now and seems worth talking about. Directed by special effects and makeup designer Stephen Norrington who had previously helmed the popular Marvel vampire movie "Blade" (1998), this is his fourth (and so far last) directed film. I personally watched it at the theater on the day of release, July 11, 2003 in the U.S.A.

The good

I know that you're probably dying for me to get to the juicy stuff, so let's get the "good" out of the way. This movie is based on a comic book series written by legendary writer Alan Moore (of "The Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta" fame) and drawn by artist Kevin O'Neill.

Before Alan Moore began demanding that Hollywood take his name off of everything. This movie is why.

The premise of the comic was original, taking popular literary figures of the 1800s and putting them in a shared universe in the way that DC Comics' "Justice League" and Marvel Comics' "Avengers" works. This approach, with Moore's tight writing and the adult nature of the material makes for a mature work that doesn't lean on complexity so much as the characters themselves. The characters, their interaction, and the way that their relationships evolve drive the comic. You'll notice that I've not mentioned the movie in this section on the "good." There's a reason.

So many ruined and stalled careers...

All right. So many people may know that this was the director's last film and the last "official" acting job of Sir Sean Connery (he did a few voice acting roles, but nothing on this scale after this film). I mean, the director did "Blade," which was a highly competent and popular film. The cast is filled with talented and experienced actors. The marketing push for this film was unrelenting. The effects were top-notch for the time. How could a juggernaut of talent, based on such a great idea, and backed by one of the most legendary movie studios of the time possibly fail to the point of ruining several careers? How?

Well… One only has to watch the film to understand it. It's a hot mess. For starters, most of the mature themes and violence from the comic book are scrubbed out, making this little more than a PG action film. What little "mature" themes remain are handled so immaturely that they seem childish in the mix (Dorian Gray gets stabbed in… his private are, and his only response is "if that had been permanent I'd be very upset," and that is the most adult joke in the script). All backstory is delivered in clunky one-liner laden dialogue scenes between characters standing in a circle measuring their manhoods. Now, there are action scenes, and they are the fun bad early 2000s era CG that you'd expect. A few special effects and practical designs stand out: The "Mr. Hyde" prosthesis looks pretty good (and comic-accurate), the Nautilus being shaped like a sword is an interesting take,

Not at all how it's described in the book, but okay.

and the "auto-mo-bile" is a pretty neat looking car.
It looks cool, but a bit too developed for the time.

The addition of Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer to the comic's original cast isn't a terrible idea, but their inclusion results in little more than two more characters to STAND IN A CIRCLE while spouting snippy one-liners.
"Gentlemen?" "Extraordinary!"

On that point, hearing characters espousing "gentlemen" and "extraordinary" over and over again while they're STANDING AROUND IN A CIRCLE isn't clever, it's just irritating after the third time it happens, in the first half-hour.

"Gentlemen!" "Extraordinary!" "League!" "What do you mean, 'league?'" "Are... are we not doing that?"

The script (adapted by James Dale Robinson and endlessly altered by studio interference) absolutely kills this movie. Imagine a Joss Whedon movie where instead of humorous quips it's just unrelenting "I'm cooler than you" one-upmanship. You might not be able to articulate why it's bad while you're watching it, but your brain knows. Your brain knows. Some characters had to be changed for rights issues (switching out H.G. Wells's villainous invisible man, Hawley Griffin, for the slightly less villainous made-for-the-movie Rodney Skinner), which sort of lessens the impact, although I will admit giving Mina Harker vampire powers could have been a welcome change from the comic… Although her lines are so incredibly awful as she's STANDING IN A CIRCLE TRADING ONE-LINERS WITH EVERYONE ELSE that it hardly matters.

Also, there's this scene, immediately rendering the one meaningful death in the film meaningless.

Not safe for young children, not mature enough for anyone else

The film is rated PG-13. Language-wise, there isn't any swearing or strong language outside of annoyingly immature innuendo. Most of the on-screen deaths are bloodless, even when the people in question are being shot, sliced up by swords, or having their throats ripped out by vampires (there's a little blood, sure, but not what you'd expect from a horror film).

The single bloodiest scene in the film.

The most disturbing image is when the invisible man is burned by a flamethrower and looks like his semi-visible skin is charred and melted, but don't worry kids -- he's okay at the end with no visible blemishes or even bandages for some reason. Dorian Gray's death is a bit unsettling, but only because it looks so fake from the computer graphics.

Where can you watch it (and why would you want to)?

As of this review, this film is available for streaming for free on Tubi, or for rent/purchase on Amazon Prime video. I watched my DVD version. Is it worth watching? Well… I'd say check it out at least once. The (underused) cast is serviceable, the action parts are worth seeing for how bad they are, and the script is noteworthy for how to not write a script. At the very least, it's the last time you'll see Sean Connery in a live-action film.

No comments: