The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
directed by Stephen Norrington
(20th Century Fox, 2003)

Someone in Hollywood must have heard rumors of the excellent Alan Moore graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which several figures from 19th-century British literature are gathered together to combat a global threat. Unfortunately, when scriptwriters decided to make it into a movie, there were apparently no copies of the book to be found. So they worked, so far as I can tell, from a single page torn from a ratty old copy that listed several key characters but provided no clue whatsoever as to the direction of Moore's plot or character development.

It's a shame, too, because there are points in the movie that are really quite good. Sean Connery, as retired adventurer and group leader Allan Quatermain, is dashing as always, but he's not enough to carry a film that lost its direction from the first scene and never regained its footing. Casting is never really a problem anywhere along the way; while Connery is the only A-list name in the lot, the others are suitably convincing in their parts.

Among them are Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), who did not survive her brush with Dracula entirely unscathed; Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), whose mighty science and, of course, the Nautilus are invaluable tools at the League's disposal; Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), whose aging portrait makes him nearly invincible; Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), who stole the formula from the original Invisible Man (who, due to copyright issues, was not available for this film); and Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), whose brutish alter-ego provides the group's exceptional muscle. They are joined by Tom Sawyer (Shane West), a trigger-happy American secret agent; not a member of Moore's League, he was added because filmmakers feared a lack of interest among U.S. audiences if a local boy wasn't featured.

The movie takes place in a world much like our world in 1899, but there have been secret advances (automobiles, automatic weapons, tanks, sonar) and subtle changes; Venice, for instance, has a complete network of roads, catacombs and graveyards, and channels deep enough for a skyscraper-sized submarine to maneuver.

There is a threat to world peace and the mysterious M (Richard Roxburgh) calls our heroes (and anti-heroes) together to do their duty for queen and country. Since this is an action film starring Connery, the leadership role given to Harker in the book is now, of course, ceded to Quatermain. The League saves Venice, destroying a good bit of it in the process, suffers betrayal, uncovers the identity of the bad guy and engages in a lot of fisticuffs along the way.

Any effort to compare this to the book would be futile since, beyond the names of some of the characters and settings, there is no similarity. This is not Moore's story. The movie fares a little better if judged solely by its own merits -- it certainly has plenty of action, and both the cool-headed Quatermain and the massive Mr. Hyde are particularly fun to watch -- but the storyline sputters and spirals without a firm hand to guide it. It's a shame, because League could have been extraordinary ... if they'd only read the book and retained just a bit of it in the script.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 6 March 2004

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