Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
In terms of this summer's large-scale, special effects-laden action
extravaganzas, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is lower-key
and less flashy. None of its big moments come close to approaching
the sheer adrenaline rush of, say, the highway sequence in "The Matrix
Reloaded" or the crane chase through the Hollywood street in "Terminator
3: Rise of the Machines" or the fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike
in "X2." And yet, the film is decidedly more involving than all of
the above, holds more intriguingly original conceits, and--here's
a refreshing change of pace--keeps its running time well below the two-hour mark.
Based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, "The League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen" brings together a wide array of figures
from classic literature to join forces and do battle against a megalomaniac
out to start a World War between England and Germany. The time is
1899, and a masked villain known as the Phantom has begun to destroy
both countries in an attempt to create a strife between them, and,
thus, getting the chance to sell his new high-tech weaponry. To prevent
this from happening, British secret agent "M" (Richard Roxburgh) enlists
the aid of aging adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), sea-farer
Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran),
and Dracula's ex-lover and newly vampiric Mina Harker (Peta Wilson).
Given free reign to find anyone else who may want to join their new
"League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," Quartermain later finds help
in the form of the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), and the now-adult Tom Sawyer (Shane
West). As their quest leads them to Venice, across the open seas in
a gigantic submarine known as the Nautilus, and finally to the snowy
mountains of Mongolia, it becomes increasingly apparent that one of
their own may secretly be in cahoots with the Phantom.
Directed with casual aplomb by Stephen Norrington (1998's "Blade"),
"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" captures your attention from
the first frame, holds it for most of the running time, and does it
without trying too hard. As far as this year's comic book adaptations
go, the movie chimes in second only to the adult-minded and challenging
"Hulk." That said movie is superior to "Daredevil," "X2," and "Bulletproof
Monk," as well as non-comic book features like "The Matrix Reloaded,"
"Pirates of the Caribbean," and "2 Fast 2 Furious," and yet is still
nothing more than merely good, only goes to prove that there is much
room for improvement in today's summer blockbusters.
First, the good. The premise itself, in which famous characters from
literature cross paths and work together for the greater good, is
exciting and ingenious. The Invisible Man, for example, is able to
spy on the bad guys without ever being seen, while Dr. Jekyll occasionally
transforms into his giant, Hulkish alter-ego Mr. Hyde, and the bloodthirsty
Mina Harker can turn into a hundred bats at once and attack at will.
The camaraderie between the lead characters is easy-going and believable,
with a subtly forming father-son relationship between Allan Quartmain
(who lost his own son years ago) and Tom Sawyer quietly effective
without growing maudlin. The production design (credited to Carol
Spier) of a turn-of-the-century world that, nonetheless, has futuristic
elements around the edges, is sometimes awe-inspiring and always sumptuous.
The special effects are also some of the best of the year, with Mr.
Hyde surprisingly more lifelike in his creation and movements than
the Hulk himself. The Nautilus, an enormous, curvy, fast-moving submarine,
is an equally superb visual treat.
Although the picture moves with efficiency and the pacing rarely flags
(makers of the overlong, overblown "Pirates of the Caribbean," take
note), the editing does not hold such close scrutiny. In one scene,
the characters can be in England, and in the next they are in Venice
without any reasoning. No matter how fast the Nautilus can move, it
certainly isn't superpowered to achieve such a feat as this. The movie's
lacking sense of space and time is often confused because of it. Additionally,
while the members of the "League" all get their chance to be in the
spotlight, their backstories are woefully underdeveloped, and disappointingly
little is taken advantage of from their respective novels.
At 72, Sean Connery (1999's "Entrapment") appears to be in amazingly
fine shape and still passes muster as an action hero. With his distinctive
voice, speech, and suave mannerisms, Connery brings nobility and exuberance
to every role he plays, and Allan Quartermain is no exception. As
Tom Sawyer (the one original addition to the film that wasn't in the
comic), Shane West (2002's "A Walk to Remember") does quite well in
the part of Quartermain's young apprentice. And Peta Wilson (TV's
"La Femme Nikita") has got Mina Harker down pat, with equal parts
sensuality, sweetness, and vicious bite.
As problematic as certain elements are (the anticlimactic ending,
too, could have used some more thought), "The League of Extraordinary
Gentlemen" is undeniable entertainment, far more compact and frequently
satisfying than some of this summer's bigger--and lesser--action pictures.
After seeing the promise that director Stephen Norrington has shown
with what is set up as a new potential franchise, the idea of a "League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen 2" doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.
There are many more high-flying adventures that Allan Quartermain,
The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, and the rest of them could potentially
go on, and there's also much that could be solidified and perfected on a second voyage.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman