The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG) Review
Sean Connery has finally faced up to the fact that he is an old man. The presence of the 70 year old as veteran explorer Alan Quartermain in the central role of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen embodies a mood of acceptance, steeped in pathos, that is refreshing to see particularly in light of recent cinematic misadventures (I’d prefer not to mention Entrapment) that basically said only one thing, despite efforts to the contrary: Past It.
The ageing Scot has clearly done some thinking about the roles he should be taking in the twilight of his career and it has paid off. Suddenly becoming comfortable with mortality has enabled Connery to summon up a performance that stands above this thoroughly average action-adventurer fare, which has arrived too late (largely due to hiccups in post-production and problems on set) and is too far lacking in all the core areas to be considered amongst the genuine big hitters of 2003.
LXG (a mercifully catchy abbreviation) takes place in an alternate Victorian universe at the turn of the Nineteenth century, with the world on the verge of a massive global conflict following a number of terrorist acts orchestrated to look like acts of war. In an effort to avert a potential battle between nations, a collection of disparate characters derived from the annals of fantasy fiction in our world, but living and breathing in this other reality, are summoned together to uncover the plot to bring the world to its knees. So begins the opening act of assembling the team of wildly diverse characters, some more morally vague than others, and making them work together. The burden for this largely falls on Quartermain’s shoulders. The jaded and unwilling adventurer, plucked from seclusion in the African plains, must feed off his long-past reputation as a pioneering leader to unite a bunch so disparate as a Vampiress (Mina Harker from Dracula) an Indian sailor and inventor (Captain Nemo the brainchild of Jules Verne) an immortal (Oscar Wilde’s long-lived fop Dorian Gray) an invisible man but not the Invisible Man because they couldn’t attain the rights (who has to paint his face white just to justify his inclusion) schizophrenic scientist Dr Jekyll (and his overbearing alter-ego Mr Hide) and from deepest, darkest Louisiana Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, who has seemingly worked his way out of the swamps to become a US government agent. Phew!
As you can imagine, this huge deal of exposition is a potential stumbling block for the movie. With such an array of individuals to reveal before the little matter of saving the world (ho-hum) can be addressed I was expecting a fledgling plot that would stutter and roll sideways before it got going. As it turned out, the opening 45 minutes of LXG are by far the most entertaining; the coughs and splutters come later. The assembly of the group maintains a steady pace and an air of suspense and expectation that is soon washed away when they embark upon the quest at hand in Captain Nemo’s ludicrously massive and shiny submarine Nautilus. “The Sword of the Sea” as the good captain likes to call it is a CGI catastrophe that seems anachronistic even in this fabricated past. A promising opening therefore quickly switches to autopilot and a number of trivial set pieces taking place in exotic European locations and designed to explore the unique power of each character, prove to be routine and unconvincing. Major problems with the group dynamic, largely caused by characters who were never that dynamic in the first place, cannot be solved by Connery who flaps vainly to offset the inevitably uneventful climax. Combine this with a weak and preposterous villain who starts off sinister but ends up laughable and some pretentious visual effects that catch the eye for all the wrong reasons and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ruefully misfires. The cracks appeared early enough to allow a potentially good film to fall irredeemably through.
Again the comic-book/graphic novel plus Hollywood equation fails to provide the desired answer. LXG is a wonderfully innovative concept. The idea of extrapolating a story from a group of characters already existing in the realms of literature by bringing them together offers so many tantalising possibilities. A dream team of well conceived characters already in the bag leaves the screenwriter with the uncomplicated task of devising a half decent story, and bringing the characters to life in a manner that engages the audience. Sadly this doesn’t take place. The familiar process of Hollywood homogenisation has once again taken its toll. The original concept has been boxed and repackaged for a movie audience deemed unfit to grasp the darker themes that made Alan Moore and Kevin O Neill’s graphic novels such a cult success. LXG the movie definitely plays dumb to a younger crowd. Gone are all the deeper internal conflicts and fallibilities of the characters, exemplified in Quartermain’s opium addiction. What remains are superficial tensions, easily reconciled, such as Dr Jeckyll’s manoeuvre to get to grips with his alter-ego and Mina Harker’s latent intent to chew anyone’s neck off that are laid out so unappetisingly on the obvious plate. The substitution of Tom Sawyer, the all American hero, for a French character who appeared in the original text only serves to highlight the reactionary tactics of appeasement employed by all concerned.
A darker tone to LXG could have begun to redeem a limp story inhabited by one-note characters, sadly limited by the unimaginative minds that brought this mess to life. The sharp edges and shadowy crevices were smoothed off and filled in before this one made it to the screen, the superficial and bland two hours that remain leave no lasting impression.
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