The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

  • Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Director:  Stephen Norrington
  • Date:  2003
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Sean Connery, Shane West, Stuart Townsend, Richard Roxburgh, Peta Wilson
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color 
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m a representative of Her Majesty’s government, the Empire needs you.”  Sorenson
“But the question is, Do I need the Empire?”  — Allan Quartermain

“You’re missing a picture, Mr. Grey.”  Allan Quartermain to Dorian Grey

“I’ve lived long enough to see the future become history, Professor.  Empires crumble, there are no exceptions.”  —  Dorian Grey

The League of  Extraordinary Gentlemen starts with a steampunk bang as a tank bursts out of a building, crushes a bobby, and then bursts through the walls of the Bank of England to commit a robbery. However, the object of the robbery isn’t just money, gold, or even jewels — it’s documents.  The robbery seems to have been conducted by the Germans, but next on the hit list is a German Zeppelin factory — which is blown sky-high.  Thus Britain blames Germany and Germany blames Britain, while in the background the mysterious Fantom seems to be orchestrating everything.  The film is set in 1899.

And thus, M, the mysterious leader of the League of  Extraordinary Gentlemen assembles the extraordinary men and women of the League to prevent a war — he says.  And the League is assembled: hunter and adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), Mina – the vampire lover of Jonathan Harker, a thief named Skinner who has stolen the formula for invisibility, American Secret Agent Tom Sawyer, Dorian Grey, Captain Nemo (and his Nautilus) and Hyde (and his alternate identity Dr. Jekyll).  Now assembled M tells them they must prevent the mysterious Fantom from sinking Venice and killing the world leaders assembled there for a peace conference.

Reaching Venice, the League discovers they are too late, Venice is already starting to fall.  They manage to stop the destruction, and discover that they were set up.  Dorian betrays the crew, he’s working for M who’s stolen something from him.  Skinner (aka the Invisible Man) whom the League thought was guilty is innocent, but steals aboard the small Nautilus excursion pod with Grey.  Skinner is able to send a message to the League and they are off to stop M where he’s using the unique talents of the League members (Vampirism, invisibility, Jekyll’s potion, etc) to create new superweapons, as well as his tanks, mechanical men, etc.

The League reaches M’s new hideout and manage to win the day.  Allan Quartermain dies but passes the torch to Tom Sawyer whom he calls a “hero for a new century” (Quartermain being the hero of the old century).  M is revealed to be behind the Fantom, and also to be Professor Moriarty.

The League of  Extraordinary Gentlemen is a good film, but I think it could have been better.  I loved the Victorian literary references (other than Tom Sawyer who seems too young and out of place in the film). Besides the main characters, Quartermain makes a reference to Phileas Fogg going around the world in 80 Days.  Sorenson is a Sherlock Holmes reference, it’s Holmes alias during part of his “missing three years” after Reichenbach Falls. That M is really Professor Moriarty is also another Sherlock Holmes reference.  There are some marvelous quips as well.  Sean Connery is brilliant, and the rest of the cast does a competent job.  However, I can’t help but wonder how much better the film could have been with a more experienced and better known cast.  Also, far too much time is spent assembling the League — time that could have been spent firming up the plot.  I didn’t like the obvious CGI Hyde (and the “super-Hyde that fights Hyde at M’s fortress is just silly-looking).  The initial CGI effect for the Invisible Man as he smears on cold cream to show his face is extremely well done, but the very next scene in the car has the actor with white greasepaint on his face that’s applied so badly you can see his beard stubble.  One or the other effect would actually have worked, but switching between both is distracting and screams “we didn’t have the money to do this right”.  The Nautilus is gorgeous, but is apparently solar powered, which makes no sense for a sub.  In Jules Verne’s novel it’s a nuclear sub — maybe the filmmakers were afraid to say so?  Nemo’s car is also beautiful.  Overall, this film felt like a nice intro, but its a real shame no further sequels were made.  I almost think it would have been better as a television pilot than a film, especially as a television series could have brought in even more fictional and real Victorian characters.

There is plenty of action, however, and the look of the film is actually really, really gorgeous.  And I did like the cast, they all do a competent job (I just think they could have done better in casting).  In a sense the film suffers from unfulfilled promise.

Recommendation:  a fun movie for teens and adults, see it
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Lost Weekend