THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN"

A few months ago, Entertainment Weekly had an article about the making of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - or LXG as it is abbreviated. Yet another movie based on a comic book or “graphic novel,” the film had a difficult shoot. According to the article, the movie’s cast was ready to revolt due to their collective frustration with director Stephen Norrington (Blade). They allegedly felt that he was unsure of what he wanted, which resulted in shooting taking longer than expected. When movie shoots are this troubled, it is almost always a bad omen for the finished product. (Star Sean Connery knows a thing or two about this; a similar situation plagued his disastrous film version of The Avengers.) I knew of the troubles making LXG beforehand, but I put them out of my mind as I entered the theater. Although the odds seemed to be against the movie, I was well aware that massive on-set conflicts occasionally produced a masterpiece. Just look at the hatred between Richard Gere and Debra Winger behind the scenes of An Officer and a Gentleman or the creative head-butting of Dustin Hoffman and director Sydney Pollack on the set of Tootsie. In the end, LXG is neither a disaster nor a masterpiece. It is an ambitious – and occasionally entertaining – film that also happens to be substantially flawed.

The premise is brilliant. Set it 1899, the story begins with a masked figure known as the Phantom committing secret acts of terrorism designed to pit countries against each other, thereby starting a World War. Connery plays Allan Quartermain, who is summoned by the mysterious M (Richard Roxburgh) to join an elite team of crimefighters committed to stopping the Phantom. The so-called League of Extraordinary Gentlemen consists of such famous names as Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Tom Sawyer (Shane West), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), and Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend). There’s also one woman: Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the wife of Dracula’s nemesis Jonathan Harker. Mina is, of course, a vampire.

The League learns that the Phantom is planning to bomb a conference of world leaders which is to be held in Venice. They have only a few days to get there, but Nemo’s underwater ship proves capable of making the trip in the time allotted. Once in Venice, the Phantom launches his attack, which the League is successful in preventing. Quartermain soon learns the true identity of the villain, as well as his real intention, which could have serious ramifications for the League as well as for the rest of the world.

So what does LXG do right? The set-up is really good. The early scenes in particular suggest the film’s real potential as these famous characters are brought together to form the League. I like the idea of combining such an unusually diverse bunch of people into a sort of superhero supergroup. The plot takes a few interesting turns as well. The Phantom’s ultimate plan has some intriguing possibilities (not that the story does anything with them). There’s a clever logic in what he wants to do. I also enjoyed some of the performances. Shane West particularly entertained me. He doesn’t necessarily reinvent the image of Tom Sawyer, but he does kind of exaggerate the free-wheeling adventurousness of the character in a way that is amusingly new. Sean Connery does a typically fine job of commanding the screen as well.

The flaws are perhaps more numerous. Primarily, my complaint is that while the gentlemen are extraordinary, the plot is anything but. There are tons of lost opportunities here, especially given the caliber of the characters. It often seems like they are operating in a different universe than the villain is; you don’t get a sense that they’re really all that involved in trying to stop him. There should be a much clearer pursuit of the Phantom than there is, and it should feel like teamwork on the part of the League. By the end, the movie essentially sacrifices plot altogether, substituting it with general mayhem and chaos. Bombastic action scenes overtake any sense of subtlety or wit in the story. Because the action scenes are adequately staged at best – and because the battle against the villain is so poorly defined – there’s not a lot behind them. It feels like the action is being used to divert attention away from the fact that the story has disintegrated.

There’s also a fundamental lack of character development. The movie assumes you already know who all the characters are, so it doesn’t bother to develop them in any interesting ways. You are expected to bring your own knowledge of them to the theater with you. Granted, these are some of the most beloved literary characters in history, but if the movie is going to use them then it has a responsibility to redefine them within the context of the story.

LXG also has some pretty sloppy special effects that detract from the fun, plus a bunch of logical errors and inconsistencies that take you out of the movie for a moment. (One has to wonder why the Invisible Man was chosen to sneak bombs into enemy headquarters considering that while he may be invisible, the bombs are not.) I rarely say this about a movie I don’t like, but I hope they make a sequel to LXG. This was a terrific idea that could have yielded a great movie. Perhaps if they try it again – with a different director – they can reach the concept’s full potential.

( out of four)


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is rated PG-13 for action violence and mild sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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