The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Sean Connery is the epitome of an extraordinary gentleman.

(2003) Action (20th Century Fox) Sean Connery, Richard Roxburgh, Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsend, Naseeruddin Shah, Tony Curran, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill, David Hemmings, Terry O’Neill, Rudolf Pellar, Robert Willox. Directed by Stephen Norrington

 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on a wonderful graphic novel by Alan Moore, had such high expectations among its fans that almost no movie could meet them. Consequently it got terrible reviews and a great deal of Internet drubbing, which is too bad, since it’s quite a nice little movie.

The setting is just before the 20th century. The legendary African explorer and adventurer Allan Quatermain (Connery) lives a semi-retired life, having already found King Solomon’s Mines. He is recruited to save England from a madman, one who is using terrible technology to set world powers against one another in an effort to start a World War.

Queen Victoria is very much against the idea, so she has the mysterious M (Roxburgh) recruit the most extraordinary team of people she can find; Mina Harker (Wilson), who suffers from an unusual blood disease; the brilliant Captain Nemo (Shah), captain of the fabulous Nautilus; Rodney Skinner (Curran), a petty thief who happens to be invisible; and Henry Jekyll (Flemyng), who hides a hideous dark side. They also recruit the fey Dorian Grey (Townsend), a brilliant mind who has seen it all.

Attacked by the goons of their quarry, they escape with the aid of Tom Sawyer (West), a brash American Secret Service agent. Together, as a league, they journey to Venice to prevent the destruction of a peace conference. They are too late to entirely prevent the bombs from going off, but by teaming together they manage to save the city and most of its populace. They find that there is a traitor in their midst, and their adversary is not who they think he is at all.

This film has taken its share of critical abuse, and some of it is deserved. There are some definite leaps in logic; having a sub the size of the Nautilus floating in the canals of Venice is ludicrous at best. The computer-generated Mr. Hyde is dreadful. However, despite the reported problems on the set between Connery and director Stephen Norrington, Connery handles his role like a pro, making a believable Quatermain. He is gruff and irritable but absolutely money in the clutch. This is Connery’s film and he carries it well.

The atmosphere of a Victorian era slightly warped from the reality of history comes off nicely. There are plenty of terrific effects to make this big screen-friendly. The cast, once you get past Connery, is decent enough but nobody really stands out except for Townsend as Dorian Grey, channeling “Project Runway” a bit too much. Wilson, so good in the “La Femme Nikita” TV series, has plenty of screen presence but it’s not really channeled well, more the fault of the filmmakers than the actress.

Does it measure up to its source comic? Depends on what you mean. And it shouldn’t have to. Comparing a movie to a comic is like comparing a car to a plane. They are different media with different qualities. The comic book League is one of the best (IMHO) ever, and the film wisely departs from its storyline. Why compete with greatness when you can, perhaps, establish your own?  Of course, the movie doesn’t really establish greatness but it does try. Seeing all these beloved fictional characters together is a hoot, but ultimately is disappointing; you don’t get the sense of epic adventure their original tales gave us.

The movie actually did better in the global market than it did here in America. Although room is left at the end for a sequel, you will never see one. Moore has divorced himself completely from the movie, which in all fairness, he has pretty much done with every movie made on his source material. Still, it’s a wonderful concept, and the atmosphere combined with Connery as an adventure hero is enough to make this a movie worth seeing – especially inasmuch as this is, in all likelihood, Connery’s final film.

WHY RENT THIS: What is in all likelihood Connery’s final film performance is delivered with all the fire and charisma of all his previous ones. Fascinating concept. A kick to see all those beloved fictional heroes together.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks the epic spirit of adventure of the source. A bit silly in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of action violence, a few bad words scattered here and there and a bit of sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was one of the first five movies to be released on Blu-Ray by Fox.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $179.3M on a $78M production budget; despite the perception that this was a flop,it actually made a slight profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Ice Age: Continental Drift

Watchmen


The Nite Owl stands before Archimedes, his high-tech flying machine.

The Nite Owl stands before Archimedes, his high-tech flying machine.

(Warner Brothers) Malin Ackerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle, Robert Wisden. Directed by Zack Snyder

Watchmen is perhaps the most honored and revered graphic novel of all time. Originally written by Alan Moore (who has refused to let his name be associated with the film version, although don’t let that fool you), in many ways it changed the way graphic novels – and superhero-based ones in particular – are perceived.

The year is 1985, although not the one we remember. Richard Nixon is still president, having been elected for an unprecedented fifth term. The Soviets invasion of Afghanistan has brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. And the American superhero squad known as the Watchmen has been forced to disband due to a government ban on masked vigilantes.

The film opens with one of the former Watchmen, a super-conservative psychopath called the Comedian (Morgan) being murdered. He won’t be missed much – he was a wretched human being. However, Rorschach (Haley), a strange and possibly deranged man whose mask constantly changes into a series of inkblot-like patterns, thinks there’s more to the crime than the attempted robbery story the police say is what happened. He thinks that there might be a killer going after the ex-Watchmen, so he visits his former partners – the second Nite Owl (Wilson), who visits the first Nite Owl (McHattie) and commiserates over the life of a retired masked crimefighter. The second Silk Spectre (Ackerman), who lives with the god-like Doctor Manhattan (Crudup) and whose mother, the first Silk Spectre (Gugino), was once assaulted by the Comedian.  Finally, there is Ozymandias (Goode), the world’s smartest man, who has gone public with his secret identity and has become a very wealthy industrialist.

The world has become a mean place, and gangs rule the streets of New York. Most people believe that nuclear annihilation is inevitable and act accordingly. The former superheroes are depressed, fatalistic and have issues of their own. The kindest is Nite Owl, who has grown a bit timid over the years, although basically a decent man. Rorschach is nearly psychotic, narrating a series of journal entries that make plain his belief that humanity is essentially a genetic cesspool that has more in common with vermin than with higher life forms.

Dr. Manhattan, a former nuclear physicist who became able to manipulate matter at will in a horrifying accident, is becoming less and less connected with the world and its inhabitants. His affection for Silk Spectre is almost all that keeps any sort of caring for humanity in his nature, but that all changes when he discovers that he may have caused cancer in those closest to him. Shocked and horrified, Manhattan exiles himself to Mars. With America’s most powerful nuclear deterrent out of the way, the path is cleared for the Russians to begin building to the inevitable climax of assured mutual mass destruction. Can the costumed heroes, once hated and reviled, pick up their masks and save the day one more time?

The original graphic novel was cerebral on the one hand and visceral on the other. There is brutal violence and explicit situation, all elements preserved in the movie. Director Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse have done a magnificent job of translating a work thought unfilmable to the big screen. The subtleties of the original graphic novel are for the most part, retained here. The movie is rated “R” and there is a good reason for it; impressionable kids shouldn’t be seeing this. There is graphic sex, realistic violence and adult themes. This is no Super Friends to say the least.

The cast is excellent, mostly comprised of character actors who have started to develop a reputation for solid work. Haley, who was nominated for an Oscar last year, might bag another nomination this year for his work as the tormented Rorschach. Dogged, cynical, bitter and brutal, he is constantly underestimated by those who oppose him but winds up on the brink of solving the crime at the heart of the story.

The world presented here is gritty and nasty. You feel like you’ve stepped into a sewer, and the film is darkly lit to go along with its dark tone. Special effects abound – in fact Dr. Manhattan is mostly a special effect himself. Far above the need to wear clothes, the bright blue Billy Crudup spends most of the movie with his package dangling for all to see. The fight sequences are pretty nifty as well.

However, this is a fairly long movie as action films go and there is a lot going on in terms of plot. Snyder tries to follow the storytelling methods employed by the original comic (which started life as a 12-issue maxi-series) by showing the various backgrounds and viewpoints of the main characters, which can sometimes be confusing. An excellent opening titles sequence really tells you all you need to know about the world of the Watchmen. Familiarity with the source material is a plus but not a requirement in order for you to follow the story.

I was hoping for something along the lines of The Dark Knight in terms of quality and it isn’t quite there, although it is very good. I wanted to like it more, but I still liked it plenty. In that sense, Watchmen is a victim of its own excellence. I doubt somewhat that any motion picture could truly equal the scope and the complexity of the source material, as hard as Watchmen tries. It must be said, however, that I think it captures those elements about as well as any movie could.

In that sense, I can easily recommend Watchmen for general audiences without any qualms, just in terms of overall quality. Parents should be aware that some of the scenes are extremely rough when it comes to language, violence and sexuality, which I believe I have harped on sufficiently here. For my money, I think that lovers of action movies, superhero fanboys and aficionados of complex, compelling cinema are all among those who should be watching the Watchmen.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the ever-lovin’ Watchmen! Compelling performances by strong character actors make well-written characters seem real and vital. Terrific (although not groundbreaking) special effects keep the wow factor high.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the course language, extreme violence and graphic sexuality can be off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: Not for children. Adult themes, graphic violence, nudity and explicit sexuality may be too much for even some adults.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Watchmen has been in development for almost 20 years at various studios. Among the directors at one time or another attatched to the project: Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The director’s cut edition includes 24 minutes of additional footage, mostly revolving around Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl who compared to his involvement in the original graphic novel gets little more than a cameo appearance in the theatrical release;

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Henry Poole is Here