Now, I’ve never read the original Alan Moore graphic novel of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Sure, maybe some of the story and character criticisms would be better directed at the comic artists than the filmmakers, but they manifested themselves in the film. I never read Moore’s “From Hell” graphic novel either, but I can still say that Johnny Depp’s Fred Aberline wasn’t too sympathetic because he was more obsessed with morphine than his investigation of Jack the Ripper.
The concept for “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is one of the best I’ve ever heard in years. It’s a Justice League formed in 1899 with the superheroes of the day. This rouge gallery includes such supernatural wonders as Dorian Gray (the one famous for his aging portrait), the vampire Mina Harker (one of Count Dracula’s famous victims), the Invisible Man and Mr. Hyde (who has to bring Dr. Jekyll along for the ride). There are those involved that aren’t necessarily supernatural – just legendary in their skills and exploits. Examples include explorer Allan Quatermain (NOT the guy from “General Hospital”) and Nautilus leader Captain Nemo.
The mysterious M (Richard Roxburgh) recruits Quatermain (Sean Connery) to organize a team of extraordinary “gentlemen” (not all are gentlemen, as there is a woman in the midst) in order to thwart the plans of the mysterious Phantom, a masked killer who is bringing the European nations to the brink of war. Once the League is assembled, they follow the Phantom around the world, from Venice to Mongolia, to bring down his empire of kidnapped scientists and war profiteering.
The only weak link in the League is the token American, Tom Sawyer (now special agent Tom Sawyer, who works for the U.S. government). Sure, Tom Sawyer is an icon of American literature, and he exemplifies American youth and ingenuity. But come on! Couldn’t we get a better representative? After all, we’re battling 19th century tanks and flamethrowers, not navigating a riverboat. Tom Sawyer is about as out of place in this film as Steve Urkel would be in the next X-Men movie.
Couldn’t we find a different character from American literature – like the Headless Horseman from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? Now that would have made an extraordinary gentleman. Tom Sawyer is just too much Luke Skywalker (the whining one from “Star Wars: A New Hope”) and not enough Young Indiana Jones to cut it in the League.
Sawyer is just too real of a character. Quatermain and Nemo, while fully mortal are still larger than life. It reminds me of Conan O’Brien’s take on the forever upcoming Superman vs. Batman movie. “Who would win?” he asked. Isn’t there really no contest? After all, Superman can fly, is impervious to bullets and has heat vision. Batman’s a guy who works out a lot.
Of course, the choice to use Sawyer is obvious because the story called for a father-son relationship with the aging and conflicted Allan Quatermain. But like the other characters in this film, this relationship isn’t fully developed and seems to be thrown in just for some heart.
While I’ve never read the comic, I have been exposed to my fair share of ensemble superhero sagas – from the Justice League and Teen Titans to the “Superfriends” cartoon. Inevitably, there’s really one or two main characters for these stories, and the others are more of a supporting cast (like Aquaman, who is actually quite worthless to the Superfriends on dry land).
Sure, these heroes get their own stories now and then (even the Wonder Twins and Gleek the Monkey were main characters at one time or another). But that’s because comics get published a dozen times a year and television shows have 20 or more episodes a season. The problem with “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is the filmmakers tried to give everyone a main storyline and ended up diluting everything. With so many characters, the film lost some focus.
One guilty pleasure I had from the film was Mr. Hyde, who was expanded (literally) from the original Robert Louis Stephenson story to be a massive gorilla-like monster, filled with rage. With the disappointment of this summer’s big green superhero, it was nice to see that at least someone could out-Hulk The Hulk.