July 19, 2003

Extraordinary in its Mediocrity

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Today's Feature: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

IT HAD POTENTIAL, we can say that much for "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Sadly, we cannot say that "LXG," as it is known, had other elements crucial to a film's success -- such as an INVENTIVE STORY or a BELIEVABLE PLOT. That segment of the American movie-going public which cares nothing for history will enjoy it thoroughly, I am sure, but both the story and the plot of LXG makes a learned man shudder. (Before I continue, do note that this review contains spoilers up the yin-yang).

You should know that the British Government have recruited the LXG thanks to the depraved actions of “The Fantom.” This fellow is not, as one might think, a crazed comic-book collector. Rather, he is a scheming ne’er-do-well who intends to profit greatly from arms sales if he can but plunge Europe into a continent-wide conflict. As such, the peace-loving nations of Europe are counting on the LXG to save them from his mercenary actions. Sounds all well and good, does it not? Aye, until one considers the time element. You see, the action takes place in 1899.

Gee, thanks a lot, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! Why the devil didn’t you just let Europe have at it and save everyone all the trouble? At least the Germans wouldn’t have been able to use chemical weapons! Furthermore, if this conflict had erupted in 1899, one could still hold out hope that whatever the outcome, there wouldn’t have been a Treaty of Versailles to accompany it. The end result was that it was quite, quite difficult for me to root for the good guys, because the good guys were unknowingly paving the way for Hitler.

Don’t get me started on the technological silliness inherent in LXG, either. Now I will say that it was nice to see that the producers realized that illumination at the dawn of the 20th century was often the result of gaslight, not electricity. That was believable. It was not believable to think that Captain Nemo, one of the LXG’s heroes, was able to build a proto-Bentley from the ground up. It was especially not believable to think that most of the LXG were imbued with the inherent sense of how to drive a manual-transmission automobile. I mean, Gad. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but to completely throw out any sense of realism is another thing entirely.

But let’s turn back to the LXG itself. Now, one thing that really intrigued me about the movie was that the heroes therein were merely heroes. Their powers were fantastic, to be sure, but nothing so out of the ordinary that it really got silly. For instance, LXG leader Allan Quatermain’s main power appeared to be the fact he was a leader, not to mention a crack shot with a rifle; Captain Nemo had a skill set worthy of any modern engineer; and Tom Sawyer was, well, Tom Sawyer. Personally, I thought Sawyer’s creator, Sam Clemens, would have cut a much more interesting figure, but hey. It is a movie, after all.

Still, it was also frustrating to see that things did get a bit silly in reference to the more outlandish LXG team members. For instance, Dorian Gray is an immortal, whose special powers include SAG membership and immunity to bullets. Mina Harker is a vampire, whose special powers include an encyclopedic knowledge of tort law. Despite the fact that the bad guys are fully aware of these things, no one in the bad guys’ higher echelons bothered to send out a staff memo on the matter. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I tend to think that Mr Gray and Mrs Harker would find themselves a bit less extraordinary if some mid-level henchman had told the men to fix bayonets.

But what more can be said? Lots of Manly Fighting and Impressive Explosions and the Predictable Revelation of the Bad Guys’ Plans ensue; there is much in the way of a happy ending, such as it is; and one can imagine that the LXG could very well return in some sort of impressive sequel.

One can only ponder what they will save next, in 1907 or 1911 or whatever year Hollywood would have them reunite. Perhaps they would salvage the gold standard, or the balance of naval forces among the great powers, or Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 19, 2003 03:58 PM | TrackBack

Thanks Ben. You have saved my Sunday as I was actually considering heading out to the local theater to see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Admittedly, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to going but your review ensures I avoid that mistake.

Posted by: swammi in solon at July 20, 2003 10:03 AM

I'm sorry to hear that. I wasn't a fan of the comics, but they were at least pretty and stylish. Oh, I'll probably rent it just for Connery.

Had you better luck with the crowd this time? Or was this a different sort of movie such that it wasn't as bothersome anyway?

Posted by: Kevin White at July 20, 2003 10:33 AM

See, I enjoyed it for what it was--mindless entertainment and stuff blowing up. With key sectors of my brain devoted to cramming years of legal knowledge into my head to be spewed forth over two days, such simple pleasures are about all I'm lookign for right now...

Posted by: Geoff Brown at July 20, 2003 02:57 PM

Argh, I went to see it last night and only found the link to your review this morning. Everything you say is true. This movie is a dog.

It's sole redeeming feature is Sean Connery, without whom the movie would plunge to the depth of immediate oblivion.

Tom Sawyer? Gimme a break. . . .

Posted by: Donald Sensing at July 22, 2003 08:01 AM