The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003, Stephen Norrington)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: 1899 – London in April, Berlin in May, Kenya in June, and London, Paris, Venice, the open seas and Mongolia in July.

Faithful to the novel? This steampunk-influenced mash-up movie, which throws together various icons of 19th-century fiction, was based on a comic-book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. The film’s connection to Bram Stoker’s novel is the use of Mina Harker (played here by Peta Wilson), who joins the eponymous team of heroes. Her husband, Jonathan, has died and she’s now a vampire who can turn into a colony of bats yet seems okay with sunlight and can control her bloodlust. She also knows fellow League member Dorian Gray, with whom she shares a snog at one point; she feels betrayed when he’s revealed to be a baddie. Away from Stoker, the other key fictional creations being plundered are:

* Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), the hero of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Soloman’s Mines and its sequels.

* M (Richard Roxburgh), who at first is presented as a Victorian equivalent of James Bond’s boss from Ian Fleming’s novels (1953 onwards) and their movie adaptations (1962 onwards). The character is later revealed to actually be Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’s arch-nemesis from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Final Problem (1893).

* Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874), two novels by Jules Verne.

* Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), a character created for the film who’s said to have stolen the invisibility formula from the guy in HG Wells’s 1987 novella The Invisible Man.

* Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) from Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

* Tom Sawyer (Shane West), who appeared in four Mark Twain novels between 1876 and 1896.

* Dr Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) from Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella.

* Phileas Fogg from Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) is also mentioned.

Best performance: Oh, I don’t know. Tony Curran’s funny, I suppose.

Best bit: An info-dump scene 64 minutes in, which is heard by the characters as a gramophone recording – but which we see as period-quality, black-and-white footage with the baddies talking straight to camera.

Review: At first, you think this is going to be fun. A crack team of famous characters from different fictions is brought together to fight a common enemy in a swashbuckling, derring-do adventure. But the cliché-happy dialogue, affected performances and general lack of both nuance and oomph wear you down very quickly. On the upside, the sets and costumes are gorgeous – especially those connected to Nemo’s submarine – so just watch with the sound turned down.

Four “automobiles” out of 10

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One thought on “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003, Stephen Norrington)

  1. Such of a mess of a movie. Poor Connery, having passed on Lord of the Rings and The Matrix suddenly realised that a big action blockbuster could be just what he needed, and he picks this load of old cock to do it with.

    Captain Nemo is the most interesting bit, the Nautilus is beautifully done. I think I’d watch a new take on Nemo if it was done like that.

    And Jason Flemyng looks RIDICULOUS as Mr Hyde!

    Liked by 1 person

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