Alan Moore, Victorian Sci-Fi, action, literary precidents, superheroics and fun!
What more could Brother Kneumsi ask for?
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sprung from the mind of Alan Moore, one of the most respected (and I say the best) comic book writers in History! Moore has been responsible for From Hell (the basis for the Hughes Brothers film of the same name), Watchmen, a complete overhaul of Swamp Thing, and several hundred other properties, including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with artist and co-creator Kevin O'Neill! Over the years I've become an Alan Moore disciple, and have followed him with much interest through many incarnations. Moore tends to work in his own way on his own material with artists he trusts. This shows in Moore's knowledge of when not to write and when to let the visuals speak for themselves.
Allan Quatermain the explorer of King Solomon's Mines (played here aging but tough by Sean Connery) is recruited to lead the latest incarnation of a supergroup called... well, you know what it's called! This incarnation consists of some of the more fascinating characters of fact and fiction surrounding the end of the nineteenth century. Like Moore and O'Neill the Screenwriter James Dale Robinson has chosen pretty well (and with more than a little overlap onto the source material). Mina Harker of Dracula fame (played with sinister sensuality by Peta Wilson from TV's La Femme Nikita), Rodney Skinner the heir to the formula of The Invisible Man (Tony Curran, though you wouldn't recognize him), Doctor Henry Jekyll and Mister Edward Hyde (performed with as much amazement and effects as The Hulk by Jason Flemyng, who was also in From Hell), Captain Nemo (played perfectly by veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah), and Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend... Lestat from Queen of the Damned... please forgive him)! Without any textual precedent there is the addition of a certain Modern Day Warrior with Mean Mean Pride. Though his mind is not for rent to any god or government, the unlikely and unnecessary addition of Tom Sawyer to the mix was a little unsettling (especially because, as he has become a grown secret agent, his mind is apparently for rent to a government). Why the bloody hell would a Yank be needed? I guess for the Yank audience.
The new "LXG" are forced into a globe-trotting battle against the Fantom, an early terrorist looking to sell arms to both sides of wars he creates. The Fantom turns out to be another well known literary character from the same age, but who that is, I shan't say! The League forces themselves to work civilly together, albeit a tenuous friendship (specifically where Hyde is involved). Quatermain maintains the pre-liberation misogyny that his generation (and sadly many after) was guilty of, and that makes Mina Harker's involvement troublesome. However, they all seem to share a common goal and a desire for peace! (Everyone except for a secret saboteur that porks things up for them every chance he or she gets).
There are so many fun things in this movie to enjoy. Nemo's ship The Nautilus isn't quite what I imagined, but it's perfect. The Victorian decorations, and the hidden gizmos are peerless. Plus you have to love the pre-Henry Ford Automobile! The ship is as huge and over-the-top as the movie it graces! The dichotomy of Jekyll and Hyde is so much fun to watch. Not only are the Special Effects that make Hyde Hyde beautiful, the torture that Flemyng shows at having to live with Hyde rivals Bruce Banner! You have to love Mina... She's beautiful, but is super-intelligent and no bimbo! Quatermain's insults were likely left in to show what she could overcome. Man was she ever creepy too! Stuart Townsend isn't a bad actor at all (and he made a better Lestat than ol' Tommy Cruise... who wouldn't?)! Here he does an acceptably tortured Dorian Gray. He still has that half smile as if he has his own private joke, but it's forgivable (because Gray does). Tony Curran's voice does a great job, but he's really rarely seen in the film. The effects surrounding what you might see are every bit as perfect as Hyde's! Shane West... if you have to have a Tom Sawyer at least it was this guy. He does feel like a business-like, adult, but still playful Tom Sawyer. Any less an actor might have made him too annoying, but this guy pulled it off. Connery doesn't ever suck does he? Either way, he does a great job here and adds depth to Quatermain (or his fictional alter-ego).
Is it likely that Tom Sawyer will grow up to become an intercontinental US Secret Agent? No. Is it likely that Nemo, the Invisible Man, the would-be Bride of Dracula, the finder of Solomon's Mines, and Robert Louis Stevenson's magnum creation would team up like the X-Men? Certainly not (in that almost all of these are fictional... I hope). That's the point. This is very much a "what if" sort of tale, and should not be picked apart for such impossibilities. Hey, I'm huge on the source material, but the sudden appearance of this Yank is easy to swallow in that it's explained that this may (or may not be) the last of many, many Leagues. Who says Tom Sawyer couldn't pop up somewhere? Naturally, if the character or the actor had sucked I'd be a little too angry to even comment, but they did very well making him believable and worth a look!
There are many times in which this film can be predictable. There are also several times in which the movie pulls red herrings out and confuses the audience! There is also the occasional moment in which what occurs on the screen doesn't make much sense. It's all Fantasy though, so who's going to whine about it? Purists might wonder where many of the characters from the comic are (some of the comic sequel actually takes place on Mars), but with any luck there will be a sequel and we'll see these people pop up again! There are certainly a lot of implausibles and temporal anomalies, but that actually works in favor of this story! This is a parallel universe with extraordinary happenings mostly based in the literature and history of our own past... It's a beautiful thing and it works so well. The only real flaws here are beauty marks to be sure. Even the deviations from Alan Moore are still (mostly) in an Alan Moore vein with knowledge of his work. (Maybe not the Tom Sawyer thing, but... never mind).
Who cares what other critics have to say? Four Stars for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! You might like it if you're an Alan Moore Fan; you like both X-Men and The Hulk; you love CGI; you're a fan of Victorian Derring-Do and Impossibly ambitious science; you know these characters and you can follow their history; you love adventure. You might not like it if you're poor in the imagination department; you're tired of Comic Book movies; you hate movies in which the bad guys explain everything (Bond Villain style); you have no idea who these characters are and you'd need them all spelled out for you; you're a Bolshevik! I love fun movies like this, and it was intelligent enough to make you want to know these people! It also assumes you know who each of these people are, and those ignorant of the heroic histories of the core five (or is it Six) need not apply! Sean Connery was offered The Matrix but he turned it down because he didn't understand it. And The Matrix became a huge hit. He also turned down the part of Gandalf in Jackson's The Lord of the Rings adaptations because he didn't understand it. And that film Trilogy is also a huge hit! He accepted this film because, again, he didn't understand it. While the star's lack of understanding isn't generally a good thing, hopefully the same is true, and LXG will be a huge hit. If this one tanks, they won't be making any more of this kind of movie... and that would be a shame! Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to listen to Rush's Moving Pictures album again! Hey, if I can accept the existence of Tom Sawyer here, I can accept him country anywhere, man!
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