The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Directed by Stephen Norrington

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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In 1899 the British government gathers together a group of literary heroes, including Allan Quartermain, Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, Tom Sawyer, and the Invisible Man, to defeat a villain known as the Phantom who is plotting to begin a world war.

Stephen Norrington's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a consistently colorful but often unsatisfactory adventure story. Many of the film's set and costume designs are appealing, and some of the action sequences are rousing, but the movie is, on the whole, uninteresting and uninspired.

For one thing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is so absolutely loaded with characters and incidents, which are quickly hurled onto the screen and just as suddenly replaced by some other element, that, ultimately, it seems rushed and incomplete. While each of the characters clearly has a rich backstory and a complex personality, neither their backgrounds nor their personalities are explored with more than a sentence or two. The plot for which they have been brought together is just as undeveloped. Instead of creating a complex and satisfying narrative, the director moves the events he depicts along so quickly that the resolutions of the heroes' various adventures provide little satisfaction.

Sadly, although the film is often visually interesting, its images, like its story, are frequently disappointing. The design of the Nautilus, Nemo's submarine, for instance, is impressive, but the computer generated animation with which it is created is often of a very low quality. The exterior of the villain's Siberian hideaway is even more wonderful, but inside it becomes the standard dingy maze of countless other adventure films.

This is not to say, however, that the movie's images are wholly unsatisfying. The fanciful weapons and vehicles with which it is filled, which belong to periods later than the late Nineteenth Century, are often charmingly anachronistic. Mr. Hyde has been transformed into a monstrous, hulking blob of flesh that is so repulsive he is almost certain to fascinate the viewer, and the wonderfully sturdy, lumbering armored soldiers used by the villain towards the end of the film look as though they have been lifted from some unseen film directed by Terry Gilliam. None of these elements are truly brilliant, but they are all well enough realized to enhance the movie's overall quality.

Thanks to its frenetic pace and visual inventiveness, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a fun adventure film, but it could, nevertheless, have been much better than it is.

Review by Keith Allen

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