The UnPopular Opinion: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
In remembering the career of Sean Connery, many will note that his career came to an end unceremoniously with the bomb that was THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. In fact, THE LEAGUE was not only modestly successful but it was a damn fun movie as well. We get so bogged down in gross and budget these days that we fail to remember the product on screen. Like many of the films I review in this column, THE LEAGUE has suffered unfairly from word of mouth and labels rather than the movie itself. Is it a perfect film? No. Is it the best comic adaptation out there? No. Is it a fun movie? Hell yes.
It has become very popular in the last few years to reboot classic characters in new and interesting ways. There are multiple Peter Pan films in development along with the TV series ONCE UPON A TIME, ELEMENTARY, DRACULA and GRIMM. There is a demand for these reinvented stories twisted for contemporary audiences. If THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN had been made now it would have been a massive success, with or without Sean Connery. The steampunk visual style, massive action sequences, and tongue in cheek screenplay all add up for just the type of movie we all love on this site.
You're the man now, dog!
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN gathers classic literary characters the likes of Alan Quartermain, The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, Tom Sawyer, Captain Nemo, and Dr Jekyll for what amounts to the equivalent of a Victorian Avengers: a ragtag batch of competing personalities that must band together to fight a greater evil. While none of the cast is quite on par with the star level of Sean Connery, the performances from Jason Flemyng, Peta Wilson, and Stewart Townsend are all fitting with the material. Even Shane West as Tom Sawyer, despite being forced into the script so American audiences had something to connect with in a largely European cast of characters, is better than you would expect.
Keep in mind, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN comes from director Stephen Norrington who had made a name for himself with BLADE. After his experiences working on THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, Norrington would not direct another film. While we could write off this movie as the "bomb" that killed his career, it is likely Norrington's battles with the studio over the final product of THE LEAGUE that gave him a bad reputation around Hollywood. But, the film we all got to see is not a bad movie from a directorial perspective. Norrington choreographs the action with the skill of a blockbuster director while keeping the visual effects from getting too bombastic or unrealistic. Norrington was previously a makeup and visual effects artist on films like LIFEFORCE and ALIEN 3, so the guy knows if something is not working visually. While the Dr. Hyde character can seem a bit like a retro version of the Ang Lee HULK, The Invisible Man effects are spectacular.
So that is how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop!
So far it must sound like I am defending THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN implicity and finding no fault. In fact, there are two glaring problems with the movie. The first one is that the film spends too much time providing origins for each character. When you are dealing with classic literary characters, there is no need for an overlong origin for each. Most folks seeing the movie will know Dr. Jekyll, The Invisible Man, and likely Mina Harker. Alan Quartermain is the least familiar to general viewers, so the movie should have been his introduction with the others quickly added. Unlike the later Marvel movies, this film was by no means a guaranteed franchise to revisit in later films. But, even knowing that, giving viewers something to go back and look up about each member of The League wouldn't have been such a bad thing. As it is, the film slows to a crawl when it should be plowing along.
The other big issue with THE LEAGUE is that it is not faithful to the source material. Alan Moore's comic is a completely different tone and feel than this film. While fans of the comic were undoubtedly turned off by this mainstreaming of their beloved comic series, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a unique film all it's own. The years have been surprisingly kind to it in that even though it is now a decade old, watching it again feels like it could have been released just last year. The special effects hold up as does the unique story which is unlike anything else we have seen on the big screen, original or adapted. Many have said THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN would be better served by a small screen, ongoing series, but in the film we all got it still works as an action-adventure that lesser films like VAN HELSING failed to be.
A modern-day warrior Mean mean stride, Today's Tom Sawyer Mean mean pride.
You don't watch movies like this expecting Oscar caliber acting, but to see something pulpy achieved with a high level of craftsmanship. If you approach THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN with that point of view you will walk away having enjoyed the roller coaster it was designed to be. Could it have been better? Of course, what movies couldn't be improved with some tweaks here and there. I am sure if left to their own devices without studio interference, Stephen Norrington and the cast would have delivered something more that the film we got. But, we can't judge a film based on what ifs. Instead, give yourself over for a couple of hours to the greatest alternate universe superhero movie we will ever see on the big screen.
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