[MOVIE REVIEW]19th-century heroics aren’t so extraordinaryAs long as you go into “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” knowing it’s a factory-made product, you won’t come out disappointed. You might even be reasonably pleased.
It’s got explosions, a souped-up car, the world in peril, Sean Connery, people with amazing powers and an Action Movie 101 story structure, so you basically know what you’re in for without even having to finish this sentence. What’s nifty about it is its central conceit: it’s set in 1899, and the heroes are characters from Victorian English pulp fiction.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, “Dracula’s” cursed Mina Harker, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”), H.G. Wells’s Invisible Man, the adventurer Allan Quatermain (Connery) and a character from the Sherlock Holmes stories who’ll remain nameless are all on board, whimsically inhabiting the same fictional universe. So are Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (not just ageless, but bulletproof) and, presumably for the American market, a grown-up Tom Sawyer, who’s hung up his whitewash bucket to hunt supervillains for the U.S. Secret Service.
A couple of things are refreshing about this. One is the compliment to the audience implicit in the assumption that we’ll know who most of these people are. The other is the fact that setting a movie in 1899 automatically rules out such action-movie cliches as “Let’s lock and load” (though we do get “This is a private party, and you’re not invited”).
The “LXG,” as promotional posters have urged us to think of it, is assembled by an enigmatic mustachioed person known as “M” to thwart a plot to start a world war. A peace conference is to be held in Venice, and our heroes must get there in time to stop the mysterious “Phantom” from blowing up the city.
Because most of the protagonists are twisted, alienated freaks, getting them to act as a team is problematic, though not as problematic as it would be if the movie didn’t have a formula to follow. The best example of this is Mr. Hyde, whom the filmmakers digitally render as an extreme glandular case about the size of a Hummer. He’s a scary, volatile presence, until it becomes necessary to the plot for the team to function smoothly, from which point his motives are as one-dimensionally heroic as Tom Sawyer’s.
Besides Hyde, whose transformations are quite freaky-cool, there are several visually worthy set pieces, such as a shoot-out that turns a library into a snowstorm of paper. The story chugs along absorbingly enough, though the Venice sequence is a baffling, noisy mishmash (Korean viewers might be able to make more sense of it, thanks to the subtitles). Connery seems to be on autopilot, and I’ve already forgotten the rest of the cast. As an excuse to spend two hours in the air conditioning, it’ll do.
by David Moll