If It Gets the Kids Reading...
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen doesn't feature an average superhero team. Though based on a series of graphic novels by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, you're more likely to have heard of the team's members from English class than from the pages of D.C. or Marvel Comics. Thus, in turn, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is not your usual summer blockbuster.
The picture has all the budget of a Charlie’s Angels or The Fast and the Furious but twice the creative force and energy. This is the best old-timey type of adventure since The Rocketeer, an actioner so in tune with the spirit of pulp comic books that you not only forgive but sort of enjoy the various plot holes that pop up over the course of the film.
Okay, I know LXG feels like an explosion at the place responsible for making those "Abridged Classics" books, combining bits and pieces from watered-down novels and setting them in front of some huge pyrotechnics, but the film emerges as such fun in the meantime, who cares? LXG is careful not to bastardize its characters or take the fun out of seeing them do what they do on a blockbuster level of mentality. This is a big, ambitious vehicle that, for the most at least, delivers on its promises to give you a good time.
The year is 1899. A mysterious villain known as the Fantom is putting into action a fiendish plot to take over the world. By attacking countries with highly-advanced weaponry and pinning the blame on others, the Fantom hopes to succeed in turning the world's nations against one another. Thus, Her Majesty has ordered that a special team be put together to combat this menace and squash his quest for world domination.
Normal forces can't stop the Fantom, so a group of men and women with unique talents, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is formed. The team is comprised of famed adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), seafaring Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), tortured scientist Dr. Jekyll and hulking alter ego Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), "Dracula" vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), invincible immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), invisible thief Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), and American Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Together, the League puts their special abilities to work, tracking down the Fantom from continent to continent, coming closer to blowing the lid on his plans and stopping the fiend from creating a literal world war.
Some viewers will fall in love with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen while others will hate it with a passion. You're either with LXG or against it, with very little room to be in the middle here. My advice? If you think LXG looks corny and overwrought, don't bother going. However, if you've seen the trailers, investigated the myths behind the League's beginnings, and still think it looks like a blast, then let the film take your mind on a fun, two-hour journey. As long as your expectations aren't sky-high, LXG will prove to be the good time it sets out to be, a somewhat clunky actioner that nevertheless has the ability to amaze you with great-looking visuals and a creative sense of adventure.
I realize there will be complaints about the film's structure, its overly dramatic lines, and its many lapses in logic. In some cases, these complaints are justified; after all, even I know Venice probably doesn't have long enough streets to have the lengthy car chase that takes place in the middle of LXG, and if Mina Harker is a vampire, how can she walk out in the daylight and not disintegrate on the spot? But as I mentioned before, LXG ends up getting the viewers into the action so easily, charging the summer blockbuster formula with an imaginative surge. As the heroes of the League are unique, so are the film's action sequences, from an assault in Dorian Gray's library, to the search for the source of a bomb that's causing Venice itself to crumble, to a climactic fight between the Hulk-like Mr. Hyde and a Fantom henchman who makes Hyde look like a nice guy. They're big, noisy, elaborate scenes designed like the frames of a comic book, and I loved every minute of it.
When director Stephen Norrington (Blade) isn't showing the audience the next slick action scene, he's getting the most out of his film's stunning visual effects. LXG treats the viewers to the dark, lush landscapes of London and Paris, a snowy fortress in Mongolia, and Captain Nemo's majestic ship Nautilus. Though the film does look a little muddled and too gray at times, the darkness provides LXG with an aura of mystery, backing up the fact that though the characters may look ordinary, on the inside are powers you couldn't imagine would exist.
As for the League itself, Connery heads up the action in a noble performance that proves the man who was James Bond can still hold his own and more so. Quatermain, a hunter with love for the excitement of adventure mixed with disdain for the tragedy it causes, is just the right type of character for Connery. Flemyng pulls double duty here, playing the wimpy Jekyll and violent beast Hyde and doing a solid job of filling both roles. Though he's not seen much aside from a white mask, Curran's movements and vocal talents help give his invisible character a distinctive personality. Wilson is smart and seductive as the, well, smart and seductive Harker. On the other hand, the acting includes a few weaker links. I enjoyed Shah's performance as the somewhat shady Nemo, but whenever the character displayed his martial arts skills, I couldn't help thinking how odd it played out onscreen. Townsend's not bad either, but he ends up turning Dorian Gray into a vain jerk who just happens to be unstoppable and unkillable. Shane West's Sawyer came off as a bland character the filmmakers threw in to attract a younger audience, and Richard Roxburgh (the Duke from Moulin Rouge), as the mystery man who brings the League together, doesn't get much action.
Though far from the summer's best picture, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is solid fun nonetheless. It's as clever and inspired as any action movie you'll see this season .
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of fantasy violence, language and innuendo.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakari.com.