There are many things that can harm a movie. Sometimes it’s that they had a choice and they picked the wrong option. And sometimes, it’s that they made a choice that was completely unnecessary. And a movie with both of these traits is the 2003 movie “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” based on the comic book series of the same name by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.
Now, before I say anything about this movie, I should stress that I have never read the comic series or the graphic novel. Because of that I cannot make comparisons between the comic book and the movie. Besides, there are probably enough people who are fans of the comic to point out how they differ.
What I HAVE done is read some of the literary works where the characters feature. So I can make comparisons and judge the movie based on that.
So let’s get started. Prepare for some rambling.
Sean Connery stars in the movie many think is the reason he retired. Let that sink in for a moment.
Highlander 2? Piece of cake.
But THIS is the movie where he’d had enough..
Be afraid, be very afraid…
Anyway, He plays Allan Quatermain. but for the sake of a little laugh, I will just refer to him as Old Bond. Why? several reasons. He admits he was a womanizer in his youth, is known all over the world, he makes a few wisecracks, and he’s charged by a character called “M” to save the world from a supervillain. And he’s played by Sean Connery. How can I not make that joke?!
Though to be fair, he’s not charged by “M” to do it alone, followed by a scene of Q giving him all sorts of ridiculously appropriate and handy gadgets he can use to save the day. Instead he’s tasked with assembling a crew of “singular individuals” so that they can save the world as a team.
The eponymous “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”
We’ll just ignore that one of them is, in fact, a lady.
The League consists of:
Rodney Skinner, The Invisible Man (a more likeable, less murderous character than Griffin from the H.G Wells story)
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde
Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker
And Tom Sawyer
So what is it, exactly, this motley crew is trying to stop?
A villain known as The Fantom is attacking different nations. Using mechanically superior but aesthetically lacking machine guns and tanks, he kidnaps engineers and scientists, robs banks with layouts of Venice, blows up blimps with rocket launchers and causing massive destruction and chaos (as well as run over one english police constable who doesn’t quite understand that when a giant, lumbering hunk of wall-destroying death on caterpillar tracks is driving down the road, standing in front of it yelling “halt” is not a good idea)
While doing that, he makes sure that his soldiers are dressed as Germans when they attack England and vice versa, planting the seeds of a world war, with the plan being to sell his weapons to both sides. And to ensure the war is a certainty, he will prevent a peace meeting of the world leaders by blowing up their meeting place: Venice.
Not just the building they’re meeting in. The entire city of Venice.
I suppose that when your suit includes engraved body armor, a black fur coat, a skull cane and a polished silver mask, the ship has kinda sailed as far as subtlety goes…
But of course it’s overly dramatic. He’s a supervillain. It’s not like we’re dealing with a criminal mastermind like James Moriarty… oh wait….
It is revealed that The Fantom actually is James Moriarty, somehow having survived his encounter with Sherlock Holmes in Reichenbach. Moriartys plan is to start a world war and grow rich from selling superior weapons and supplies to both sides. a very interesting idea indeed. So interesting, in fact, that Guy Ritchie used the same plot in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” in 2011.
Actually… yeah, it probably is…
We also learn that Moriarty is “M“, who recruited Old Bond and the rest of the league. But why? Why would he recruit the only people in the world who might be able to stop him? Because Moriarty’s plan isn’t really to start a world war and sell superior weapons to both sides.
It’s to start a world war and sell the powers of The League to both sides, AS WELL as superior weapons.
That’s a pretty good twist, if I’m honest. Though in hindsight there are one or two hints that “M” is really the villain. The doors in M’s chamber has the masonic Square and Compass logo, and the Fantom has the same symbol on a ring. While that is a nice little hint to the observant audience member, it doesn’t really make sense from a realistic perspective. Why would the Fantom wear a ring with a masonic symbol? Then you start to wonder why he’s dressed as The Fantom in the attacks. Anyone who can identify him as Moriarty is either killed or kidnapped, aren’t they?
I mean, it’s a nice suit, and I’d love to have a polished silver mask myself, but he only really wears it for the benefit of the viewer, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.
Another hint ”M” is actually the villain is that he’s played by Richard Roxburgh.
I’ll get more into discussing Richard Roxburgh when I talk about “Van Helsing”, but suffice to say, when you cast Richard Roxburgh as your villain, a plot twist revealing him to be be the villain is pretty hard to pull off.
And I’m going to be brutally honest here. They did pull it off fairly well. I was surprised. You got me, movie. Well done.
So the plot itself is decent as an idea with one or two plot twists. Overall, I wouldn’t say it’s unenjoyable.
Really, my problems with this movie boils down to three things.
Mina Harker, Mr. Hyde and Dorian Gray.
Let’s start with Mina Harker.
Her problem is fairly simple. She’s a vampire.
The problem with that is that she explains that she fought Dracula alongside Jonathan Harker and Professor Van Helsing, and that Dracula turned her into a vampire. but if you kill a vampire, all who have been turned into vampires from that individual dies, or at least reverts back to human. The lead vampire is a staple in vampire stories. Kill the leader, and the rest will follow.
So if Mina is a vampire, does that mean Dracula is still alive in the movie?
Next up is Mr. Hyde.
One trait that keeps popping up with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that Hyde is usually bigger and physically stronger than Jekyll. Van Helsing did the same thing. But in the novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, Hyde is notably smaller than Jekyll. He isn’t deformed, he isn’t superhumanly strong. He is just evil.. He is a personification of evil urges. Cruelty, lust and a lack of empathy or remorse.
So imagine my surprise when I see Hyde in the movie portrayed as a hero. He displays friendship, loyalty and even compassion and concern. Now, Once is forgivable, since had he not intervened, they would have died. But later in the movie, he’s let loose to wreak havoc, and he protects a bunch of nameless soldiers from machine gun fire with a door! What the hell?
But the biggest confusion for me is Dorian Gray.
There’s so much wrong or just confusing about Dorian Grays character in this movie, I’m not sure where to start.
The movie takes place in 1899. Old Bond is, I’m guessing, in his late fifties or early sixties. At one point, he recalls meeting Dorian at Eton College during a lecture, given by Dorian Gray, when Old Bond was a young man. It’s done to foreshadow that Gray is immortal.
The problem is, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” takes place at the height of what’s known as “The Great Binge“, when drugs like absinthe and heroin were invented and consumed in huge quantities. It was written from a contemporary perspective by its author, Oscar Wilde, in 1890. In 1890, Dorian Gray was a young man, maybe in his early 20’s or even late teens.
Age wise, he would have been at most about 30 in 1899. and yet, they claim he has been alive for far longer than that, and his portrait is showing him as an old, withered corpse. The novel only takes place over 18 years, and though he is still aged horribly in the picture, it’s due to his horrible actions and drug abuse. It’s more a reflection of his sins than his age. But in the movie and the mind of popular culture, it’s only stated to show age.
And then there’s the thing I talked about in the beginning. A problem that isn’t a mistake, as much as a conscious choice.
Moriarty wants to steal the powers of The League, and to do that, he employs Dorian Gray. But Dorian Gray is immortal. He can’t die from hunger, injury, thirst or age. he can’t be bought, because nothing has any real value to him. A world war would at worst be an inconvenience.
So Moriarty, truly showing what a criminal genius he is, steals the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Amazing! Nobody could have seen that coming!
The thing is, Dorian explains the nature of his immortality to Mina at one point:
Do you recall a space on the wall of my home? A picture was missing. Although the picture is my portrait, I doubt you’d recognize the face upon it. Every year that passes, the portrait ages instead of me […] I dare not look upon it myself. or the magic of the painting would be undone
Did you catch that? If he looks at the painting, the spell is broken.
The one thing in the world that can kill him, is if he looks at the painting.
And it has been hanging on the wall of his home for so long, it’s silhouette has been etched into the wallpaper.
For DECADES, he’s been walking up and down those stairs, always thinking “If I look up, I die”. One passing glance, one moment of curiosity, and he dies.
Why the hell did he hang it on his wall?!
How does he KNOW it ages instead of him, if he can’t look at it?!
How does he know looking at it breaks the spell? Who told him?
But let’s assume that he, for some reason knows that. The painting is the one thing in the world that can kill him. And it kills him if he looks at it. And Moriarty has taken it away, saying “If you do as I say, I’ll give it back”.
That is like Lex Luthor telling Superman “If you let me conquer the world, I’ll give you this lump of kryptonite”!
Why the hell would he want it back?! Moriarty has taken away the only thing that can harm him, and he’s betraying his friends, his ex and the lives of millions to get it back!?
And here’s where the big problem comes in.
THAT’S NOT HOW THE FUCKING PAINTING WORKS!
A major plot point in the novel is that Dorian looks at the painting, and sees how it changes. He knows how the painting works, because he LOOKS AT THE FUCKING PAINTING! At some point, he starts doing good deeds, because he wants the painting to change back. But because his actions were more vanity than genuine benevolence it just gets worse.
Looking at the picture doesn’t kill him or break the spell.
HARMING the painting breaks the spell. And guess what? Spoiler alert, that’s what happens. He tries to destroy the painting with a knife, the spell is broken, and he himself is found stabbed in the heart.
SO WHY THE FLYING HELL DID THEY CHANGE THAT IN THE MOVIE, WHEN IT MAKES MORE SENSE TO KEEP IT?!
If the catch is that the spell is broken if the painting is harmed, it’d make sense he’d want it back!
But they ONLY say it’s broken if he looks at it. No mention about damage to it.
And do you know what difference it’d make to the movie if they’d kept it as it was?
In the scene where he explains his immortality, the dialogue would be slightly different, and the scene where he dies they could just have Mina make a cut in the painting with her extremely sharp claws.
That’s it. The overall plot would be just the same, but it’d make slightly more sense! Oh dear god, no! Can’t have that! We have to change it, right now!
Hmm… this post went a bit longer than I thought it would.
Oh well. If this movie is any indication, people should read more…..