The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) Movie Review

The biggest problem with “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (or “LXG” as the promos call it) is that it doesn’t offer anything new. Oh sure, the story takes place in 1899, and all of the gadgets on display are “antique” versions of what we’re used to seeing, but this only adds marginally to the entertainment quotient of the movie as a whole. Although I will admit that seeing Sean Connery, now in his ’70s, throwing punches with the best of them is a hoot. But still, for the duration of its running length, “LXG” is a bit of a mess; it’s little more than 2 major set pieces book ending minor scuffles that breaks out inexplicably every now and then to keep the target audience — the same people that flocked to “X-Men 2” and “Daredevil” — from being completely bored.

I must confess to having only read two issues of the comic book mini-series from which the movie is based. And even then, I’ve only read two issues from the second series, the one involving the invasion of Earth by Martians ala War of the Worlds. So my understanding of the league as comic book version is minimal. With that in mind, “LXG” is based on the comic book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, who decided to gather up all of their favorite Victorian-era literary characters and set them in a parallel universe as a sort of League of Superheroes.

And so we have the aging Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), the famous adventurer who has since quit the adventuring business after the death of his son. There’s the Indian Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah, “Monsoon Wedding”), the brilliant inventor. Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), last seen in that scuffle with Dracula, is the league’s only female member; and oh yeah, she’s also a vampire. The rest of the cast includes Tony Curran as the Invisible Man, Stuart Townsend (“Queen of the Damned”) as the immortal Dorian Gray, Jason Flemyng (“Below”) as the human half of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and finally Shane West (“A Walk to Remember”) as American Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer. Their mission: stop the mysterious Phantom from starting a world war between England and Germany in order to cash in by selling never-before-seen weapons to both sides.

As a movie, “LXG” isn’t much of one. There’s only about 20 minutes where nothing is exploding. That lull takes place onboard Nemo’s super duper ship, the Nautilus, which looks like a nuclear submarine covered in white ivory. For about 20 minutes we learn the characters’ various backgrounds and the fact that not all of them are completely trustworthy, setting the stage for a traitor among the ranks. But of course all of that goes out the window once the bullets start flying. And bullets fly a lot in this movie — except they never seem to hit anyone. “LXG” has the destruction power of an “R” rated movie, but lacks the gumption to show much of anything that might result from, say, 50 buildings in a heavily populated city toppling over like dominos.

The film’s best character, not surprisingly, is Sean Connery’s Allan Quartermain. The screenplay makes great use of Quartermain’s age (as well as the age of the actor playing him). On more than one occasion world-famous adventurer Quartermain has to take the time to fish out his glasses in order to shoot his prey. In one scene, Quartermain is forced to walk down some stairs and you can see the character (and the actor) start to tire, as the staircase seems to keep going on and on and on. Quartermain’s brief interactions with Shane West’s brash Tom Sawyer is also worthwhile, and by movie’s end Quartermain has effectively passed the torch to the new breed of adventurer as epitomized by the devil-may-care Sawyer.

There are other minor joys to be gleaned from “LXG” if you pay attention and have a passing knowledge of literature. Writer James Robinson (“Comic Book Villains”) has made a concerted effort to include as much as he can, and they’re all worth some chuckles. Even the movie’s villain, who is revealed to be someone unexpected, gets his identity from another famous Victorian-age character. (Let’s just say that Sherlock Holmes would be shocked.) Mina Harker’s transformation from mild-mannered lady to a chemist/vampire is also an intriguing change from her comic book roots. The alteration for the Harker character, as well as many alterations from comic book to movie, was obviously made to favor the action scenes rather than thoughtful analysis and response, as the comic books were known for.

There’s very little chance that there will be a “LXG 2” considering the movie’s poor showing at the box office. A giant movie like this, with its massive budget, requires an equally large box office return. As of this review, “LXG” has become something of a dud, so that means the film’s hint as to the storyline of a possible sequel — the invasion of Earth by Martians — will only be for those familiar with the comic book. It’s too bad, because while “LXG” isn’t the best comic book movie of the summer, it was at least just as good as the first “X-Men”, which was massively improved upon by its sequel. I guess we’ll never know.

Stephen Norrington (director) / Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill (comic books), James Robinson (screenplay)
CAST: Sean Connery …. Allan Quartermain
Naseeruddin Shah …. Captain Nemo
Peta Wilson …. Mina Harker
Tony Curran …. The Invisible Man
Stuart Townsend …. Dorian Gray
Shane West …. Tom Sawyer

Buy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on DVD