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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (July 9/03)

Based on the comic books by Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stars Sean Connery as legendary adventurer Allan Quatermain - who, as the movie opens, is living in semi-retirement somewhere in Africa. After a mysterious villain known only as The Phantom begins attacking both England and Germany (in the hopes that the two countries will go to war), Quatermain is recruited into joining the League - a group comprised of several famous (and infamous) literary characters. The League - which includes Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) - has been charged with the task of locating the enigmatic Phantom, and stopping him before he's able to set off the first world war.

Aside from the title and the characters (excluding a couple of additions), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen bears little resemblance to the comic that inspired it. Moore's creation was ridiculously complex and far more adult-oriented (example: Jekyll's alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, often tore apart his victims - something he obviously doesn't do here), but the material survives the dumbed-down-for-the-masses transition surprisingly well. Aside from a concluding twenty minutes that becomes overwhelmingly in-your-face, the film manages to remain entertaining throughout - if a little on the silly side. Then again, this isn't a movie that's meant to be taken seriously; unlike Moore's comic, the film doesn't strive for anything more than mindless popcorn fare. And while that will probably alienate hardcore fans of the source material, the majority of folks will surely find something to enjoy here.

Though portions of the film have clearly been enhanced using computers (a battle towards the end of the movie is the most obvious example of this, and threatens to engulf the movie into incoherent eye-candy, Hulk style), the filmmakers do a nice job of seamlessly integrating special effects into the storyline. The movie even has a bit of an old-school feel to it, with backgrounds that looks like hand-drawn matte paintings (it's probably safe to assume, however, that they were created without the use of a single pencil). This pre-cgi vibe carries through to various aspects of the production, from Flemyng's Dr. Hyde rubber costume (which is almost laughable but in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way) to the aforementioned backgrounds and cityscapes. It's only when the movie attempts to include so-called cutting edge technology, that the effects become more distracting than anything else. Had the previously mentioned fight scene been omitted, there's no doubt that the movie would have been a lot more effective (and probably would have avoided the eventual comparisons to Wild Wild West, that overblown debacle from a few years ago).

But when you've got a cast as talented as this one, it makes sitting through the occasionally overlong action sequence easier to take. Connery's giving his now-patented world-weary hero performance, and it works here. Quatermain's got his share of demons, and it certainly makes sense that he'd be a little skittish about jumping back into the fray. Among the supporting cast, the various roles have been filled by a group that's surprisingly adept - even Shane "Whatever it Takes" West, playing Agent Tom Sawyer. But the film's eagerness to develop these famous fictional characters results in a mid-section that feels overlong by about 20-minutes (all the members are aboard the Nautilus, Captain Nemo's legendary ship, and each character gets their own sequence in which we learn something about them individually). The most intriguing figure in the film is Nemo himself, but since he's played by an actor nobody's ever heard of, he barely receives any screentime.

There's no denying that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is exactly the kind of movie people complain about when talking about big summer movies - it's loud and things blow up with expected regularity. But it's also a lot of fun, with its unique cast of characters and impressive visuals, making it almost ideal for this time of year.

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