First of all, “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen”:http://us.imdb.com/Title?0311429 is, as my girlfriend pointed out, a guy movie. Second of all, it’s a fun movie. Third of all, the early buzz that it was going to completely die in the summer movie buzzsaw seems to have been somewhat overly cautious; it’s no blockbuster, but it’s making money.
And why not? It’s got fun characters and good actors. Sure, there’s flaws (more on those later), but everything’s got flaws. LXG (as they like to call it) is, nonetheless, a movie that can be appreciated for what it is, a good time for guys.
There’s a certain conflict in LXG, and it’s not between the good guys and the bad guys — it’s a fundamental question, is this a movie about gadgets or a movie about superheroes? The director, or whoever, holds off on deciding until the very end, when the climax is all various people and their particular role in the big fight. It’s a good denouement, and it follows from what’s gone before, but if you just saw the first and last ten minutes of the film you’d say “Where did these people come from? What happened to all the wonderful gadgets?”
Wonderful gadgets aboud throughout the film. Machineguns, tanks, even missiles take center stage during different scenes. They’re all brilliantly visually executed, in keeping with the movie’s setting of 1999. One favorite is Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, all decked out in art deco metal-plated bunting and with the shape of a flintlock musket. But, it seems, we can’t decide how big the darned thing is — in one scene it’s dozens of feet across, in the next it fits in the Venice canals. Perhaps Captain Nemo is actually a Timelord, Nautilus a Tardis, and the inside of his submarine is infinite. It would not be inappropriate for the movie.
The characters are finely done as well. Sean Connery of course dominates the screen as white hunter Alan Quartermain. The parts of The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde) are sympathetically played and well enough developed to build a real connection with the audience. The real standout is Peta Wilson’s Mena Harker, made a vampire by Dracula. She plays her role with the appropriate violence and eroticism while preserving the demure aspect of a 19th century woman.
But there are weaknesses in the gadgets and the people. It’s the person with the most gadgets — Nemo — who’s the worst developed, and the person with the most personality — Quartermain — whose gadgets (wonderful hunting weapons, after all!) are the most overlooked. Other gadgets and powers are simply overlooked — for instance, there appear to be robots running around with flamethrowers, but I’m not quite sure of that. And Mena’s primordial lust for blood is only noted in the most minimal way.
It is probably the plot that is the greatest weakness of this movie. I’ve not read the graphic novel, so it may be that the script was simply an adaptation of that; in that case, much was lost. It proceeds along herky-jerky, with no overall arc but a few major forced developments. Venice? Mongolia? Much of the action could have taken place, frankly, anywhere, and the script probably would have profited from not taking place in such unique locales, as they distracted from the real action.
The greatest disappointment, however, is the cinematography. Oh, it’s fine, and probably quite authentic as the colors and composition are always reminiscent of a comic book. But this movie takes place in London, Venice and Outer Mongolia. Is there no opportunity for a shot that blows us away? No chance to say, hey, let’s make this movie gritty in London, beautiful and sensual in Venice, and cold and empty in Mongolia? It was the same throughout, and so failed to build atmosphere. This probably also dragged down the plot, for, with all locales seeming the same, why move around the world?
All in all, it was a good effort, and well set up for (and probably deserving) a sequel. But let’s drop the LXG thing, it’s just silly. A movie about 1899 isn’t hip — it’s cool, it’s exciting, it’s engrossing, but it’s never hip.