Retro Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Ever imagined or played the game where you fantasize if you could invite any five literary figures over for dinner, who would they be? What would they talk about? What would they have in common? And what would it be like to go on an adventure with them. That is what acclaimed comics writer Alan Moore must have thought when he created the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Alan Moore teamed with artist Kevin O’Neil and together they conceived a world where six literary figures are brought together by the British government to stop a madman. The five figures the writers chose were Allan Quatermain (from H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines”), Mina Murray (from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”), Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde (from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”), Hawley Griffin (from H.G. Wells “The Invisible Man”) and Captain Nemo (from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”).

In the 2003 film based on the comic series, a couple changes have been made. Due to rights issues, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin is now renamed Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), British secret agent Campion Bond has been replaced with tormented immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and US spy Tom Sawyer (Shane West) has been added. Sean Connery plays League patriarch Allan Quatermain. Peta Wilson plays Mina Harker (Murray in the comic). Jason Flemyng plays Jekyll and Hyde. Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah plays Captain Nemo.

The setup for the film is very much the way Moore had imagined with these literary figures coming together. The new “League” has to stop a mysterious terrorist known only as “The Phantom” from leveling Venice with a large bomb. Before all is done the League will uncover the Phantom’s even deadlier master plan, a traitor in their midst and before all is done face some of their own demons.

The film has an impressive look and an engaging premise. Just watching these literary figures interact and bounce against one and another is pure enjoyment. Connery is great as stuffy great-white-hunter
Quatermain. Townsend revels in his portrayal of Dorian Gray. It seems so utterly comfortable for him. I also really enjoyed Jason Flemyng as Jekyll and Hyde. His Hyde is a dead-ringer for the comic and it is an amazing job on the make-up.

The biggest problem is the film’s translation. The presentation makes sure you know who everybody is and does a wonderful time showing us but with so much time on that it doesn’t give us much time for the mission. I really loved watching the characters interact and reveal their demons. But so much time was focused on them that we forgot why they were assembled.

I wanted more time on the characters reacting to the story and becoming involved in it. I wanted the film to be more about the traitor and the mystery of the Phantom. There had to be a happy medium reached for this film to work.

The fight sequences are rushed and forgettable. Every time you turn around the group seems to be either being blown up by a bomb or trying to find one. There are just too many bombs in this film.

The comic book celebrated literature and in some ways became a more in-depth literary medium. The film version takes the literary elements and puts them in a comic book world and practically forgets why they are special.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a success as a popcorn movie and if you don’t know the comic. It is also a treat to watch if you fantasize about a literary dinner. But it could have been so much better if some sections didn’t feel forced or overtly rushed.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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