We’re through the looking glass here people.
In 2003 we lost Sean Connery. Oh don’t worry, he’s not dead or anything, he just retired. The real discussion revolves around the film that ended his career – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s not news to people that love comics to hear that Alan Moore hated it (he hates every adaptation of his work), but a lot of fans did on release as well. It deviates hard from the main narrative, bringing in characters outside of the main cast from the source material, and changing the tone to that of an action movie. It’s a literary version of The Avengers, and it’s one of the most spectacular failures in film history.
The movie follows Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) as he’s recruited to stop the Fantom, a mysterious villain that has stolen Leonardo da Vinci’s blueprints to the city of Venice. He’s joined in London by Mina Harker the Vampiress (Peta Wilson), Rodney Skinner as the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), and eventually Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Along the way they also recruit Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde (Jason Flemyng) and Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend). At the direction of “M” (Richard Roxburgh) the group is set hot on the heels of the Fantom and the chase is on!
Baffled by this? Good, because it’s a weirdly complicated cast of characters to wrap in such a simple plot. All they need to do is uncover the Fantom’s plan and stop him, but that turns into so many different complicated things that it’s hard to fathom. This is a period piece about a literary superteam that contains a car chase, gun fights, a flock of bats that are made from a vampiress’s will, and two crackshots that honestly shouldn’t be there. That’s not even counting the stealthy invisible guy or the one that doesn’t die no matter how much damage he takes. It’s such a wild mishmash of ideas and styles, mixing British spy stories with detective work and wild American action sequences, and it never balks at any of them. It tries to bite off more than it can chew, but the film never once takes a step back to show any fear at this. Everything from the Quartermain/Sawyer discussion on a father/son relationship to the addiction tendencies of Henry Jekyll (that’s what it’s always been about, just get onboard) are explored in a weirdly thorough way. Even Dorian Gray’s immortal narcissism and charm gets a long hard look taken at it. Behind the main themes of the film is a deep look at authority and it’s interest, or lack thereof, in truly protecting citizens from a great threat. It’s oddly….timely?
I won’t defend this as a good movie because it’s not. But I’ll ask you to look at some of what you enjoy. How many of you watch every single Liam Neeson action thriller, regardless of quality? Sat through multiple Michael Bay movies? What about staring lifelessly at a Lifetime movie? We’ve all got our schlock that we love and still manage to find it entertaining. What I’m asking you to do is take a glance at The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen once more, a movie that is far from brilliance but still manages to tackle some deeper messages while providing a thoroughly thrilling time. Hell, there’s a car chase scene with monsters that culminates in a front-flipped convertible as a man shoots a flare into the sky so someone’s GIGANTIC submarine can know where to launch a missile. How is that not an absolute blast? The movie led to Sean Connery’s retirement, but it doesn’t mean that it should be ignored or forgotten for what a weird piece of silliness it is. The fact that it maintains its goals and manages to be sensical at the same time is a miracle, and a damned impressive one.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is currently streaming on Hulu.