Saturday, December 30, 2006

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – review


Director: Stephen Norrington

Release Date: 2003

Contains spoilers

It seems unfair to judge a film harshly because it comes nowhere near the source material but, with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Or LXG as it was dubbed to hang on to the coattails of the X-Men) I find it difficult to not do so. LXG was based on graphic novels by Alan Moore and, as I look at the film, I will draw in similes with the graphic novels, comparing characters mainly. I do this because it was in characterisation that I felt the film found one of its great failings.

The film begins with a raid on the Bank of England in 1899, with a tank. With a tank, you say, but this is steampunk, this is a Vernian alternate universe where Richard Roxburgh as the Fantommodern technology was invented earlier. The tank is chased by bemused Bobbies through the streets until it crashes through the doors of the Bank of England. Soldiers open fire (begging the question what where soldiers doing encamped in the Bank of England?) when the tank blows the safe door open and “German” soldiers flood out of the tank with machine guns. They are led by a character, the villain of the piece known as the Fantom (Richard Roxburgh) who goes straight for some blueprints.

Next we see the same tank, again led by the Fantom but this time with “English” soldiers, raid a German Zeppelin factory and kidnap the scientists. By this time the world is on the brink of war and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is formed from some of the more unique characters in the world. We shall now look at the League in depth.

Sean Connery as Allan QuatermainFirstly we have Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) in the film he is depicted as a man, sick of adventure and serving Queen and Country as he is haunted by the death of his son on his last adventure. It is said that he has been blessed by a witch doctor who says Africa will not allow him to die. In contrast, in the graphic novels, Quartermain is a junkie found in a Cairo opium den.

Naseeruddin Shah as Captain NemoNext we have Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) Captain of the Nautilus. Quartermain accuses him of being a pirate although the film portrays him as an honourable man and yet also shows him worshipping Kali. In the graphic novel he is portrayed more as snobbish and xenophobic, yet his keen insights are key to the League’s success. The nautilus is different also, referred to in the film as the sword of the ocean it seems scimitar like whereas in the graphic it is a giant mechanical squid shaped thing.

Jason Flemyng as Mr. HydeNext we have Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng). In this, as is in the graphic, Hyde has been terrorising Paris as the creature in the Rue Morgue. However the character is different. He still has to drink potion to change, in the graphic it had become more of a Hulk like affair, he is portrayed in a much more positive light and the idea that Hyde’s size is proportional to his evil has been dropped.

Tony Curran as the invisible manNext is the invisible man (Tony Curran), who is a completely different character. In the film he is Rodney Skinner, a thief who stole the invisibility formula and is a bit of a cheeky rogue. In the graphic novel he is Dr Hawley Griffin a sociopath, who thinks nothing of dashing a policeman’s brains out in order that he might steal the clothes as he is cold and was captured whilst posing as the Holy Spirit in a girl’s finishing school and impregnating the girls.

Shane West as Tom SawyerWe shall jump the one other character that was in the graphics for now, as she is our vampire connection and look at the two who were not starting with Tom Sawyer (Shane West) – agent for the American Secret Service. This character ends up being a surrogate son for Quartermain and, I fear, was only in the film because it was deemed an American character was needed.

Stuart Townsend as Dorian GrayThe other, not from the graphics – though they hint he was in an earlier League – is Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend). Dorian Gray is from the Oscar Wilde story and cannot die as all age and injury (and sin) is absorbed by his portrait. This is highlighted when he is shot and the bullet wounds heal over. When asked what he is, he replies, “I’m complicated.” Although not in the graphics Townsend’s performance makes Gray one of the best characters, he is supremely arrogant and this in turn makes Gray a reason to watch the film. Quartermain had met Gray when Quartermain himself was still a boy, there is an unexplored history between Gray and our last character.

Peta Wilson as Mina HarkerMina Harker (Peta Wilson) is our last character and our vampire connection. Before we look at her as a vampire, we should note that, again, the character is radically different from the books. In the books she is Mina Murray (having divorced Jonathon and reverted to her maiden name, in the film she is a widow) and she shows no vampiric traits. In the books she is part of the League because she survived great evil and has a sharp mind - although in both books and film we see the marks left on her by Dracula. In the film she has two neat puncture wound scars, in the graphic her neck is a mangle of scars. Truthfully the graphic novels are not really vampiric and would merely (normally) only gain a Honourable Mention.

Mina feedsIn the film she is a full vampire. We believe she has a reflection, she can walk in the sun and she does not sleep in a coffin. However we have examples of her vampiric nature. She feeds, we know that much. When one of the Fantom’s men holds her at knifepoint she overpowers him and feeds from him.

the aftermath of feedingWhat is interesting with the feeding comes from the aforementioned scene, where she ends up smeared in blood that quickly vanishes and also in a scene with Gray where she tastes her own blood and then, it appears, becomes sexually aroused by the taste.

severe vamp outIn a Venetian section of the film we see her vampiric self unleashed to its full capacity. She is able to climb walls, fly and summon a flock of bats as she tears through a rooftop of gunmen. It is one of the best scenes in the film, though I am biased of course.

healing woundIn the film’s finale we see her in one on one battle and see her rapid healing. Her face is cut and heals quickly and she survives a sword stick through the chest. Her immortality we are not sure about, she confesses herself that she does not know if she can die – although when surviving the sword stick she does say that her heart was missed.

I mentioned the characters failing and it was because they are just not as complicated (despite Gray’s protestation) or as flawed as they are in the graphics. Whilst I truly believe I shouldn’t base my view of a film on what it was conceived from, the characters were just too nicey nice and without depth. If the film and characters were good, despite moving away from the source material, then I wouldn’t find myself in this dichotomy.

The plot of the film is based around greed and an arms race. It is also about double-crossing as the key is the League itself and an attempt to replicate and sell their abilities and technology. It is within this, as with the characters, the film fails us. The very nature of the film relies on a suspension of disbelief but it is impossible to do so. The Nautilus, given its size, could never fit into the Venice canals. The speed in which the League’s secrets are uncovered is boggling; indeed how the workings of the Nautilus were gathered from a few photos in the wheelhouse was beyond me. The CGI (which the film relies on) can be poor in places and that does not help in the suspension of disbelief

This film isn’t bad as a brainless action adventure on a bored Saturday afternoon (such as today when I decided to crack the old DVD out and review it) but it does not draw me to watch it often. The acting is average really, with the exception of Townsend really who is superb. Quartermain is played less as the stuff of Boys Own Adventures and more as Sean Connery.

All in all, though there is no vampire connection, you are better off with the graphic novels, the film itself gets 3.5 out of 10 – whilst Townsend is good, as are the vampiric moments, they are too little to save the film.

There is an official site for the film here.

The imdb page is here.


LoBo said...

I just saw it on Blu-ray. I didn't think it was so bad. I have seen way worse films.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I would recommend the graphics (especially the first two) - whilst not featuring a vampire (Mina is not a vampire in the graphics) they are superb and the characters work really well (especially Quatermaine)