The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or LXG on some early publicity material) is a 2003 science fiction action film with horror elements, loosely based on the first volume of the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Released on July 11, 2003 by 20th Century Fox, it was produced by Don Murphy (From Hell) and directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade) from a screenplay by British comic book writer James Dale Robinson. It stars Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, and Richard Roxburgh.
It is an action film with prominent pastiche and crossover themes set in the late 19th century, featuring an assortment of fictional literary characters, who act as Victorian Era superheroes. It draws disparately on the works of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Ian Fleming, Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Gaston Leroux, and Mark Twain.
On a stated budget of $78 million, the film grossed $179,265,204 worldwide at the box office, plus rental revenue of $48,640,000, and initial DVD sales of $36,400,000. Though not popular with critics or fans of the comic series, the movie has developed a cult following, particularly within the Victorian steampunk community for its production design.
Notorious for being a troubled shoot, Connery didn’t get on with director, Stephen Norrington. “On the first day I realized he was insane,” Connery subsequently told The Times. The veteran actor retired from lead roles after this taxing part. For his part, Norrington cited what he considered to be studio interference and he has not made another movie since.
In 1899, men dressed as German soldiers attack the Bank of England and steal Leonardo da Vinci’s layouts of Venice’s foundations. Shortly after, led by their leader the “Fantom”, men dressed as British officers kidnap German scientists and destroy a factory, causing tension between the United Kingdom and Germany which could lead to an international war, with both attacks marked by highly advanced weaponry (for the time) such as tanks and machine guns. Sanderson Reed of the British Empire ventures to Kenya, to recruit world-renowned hunter and adventurer Allan Quatermain…
In London, Quatermain meets “M”, Reed’s employer, who explains that the Fantom plans to destroy Venice to prevent a meeting between the leaders of the world, his ultimate goal being to start a world war and arms race to profit from sale of his weapons. To combat the Fantom, a team of unique individuals known as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is being formed – consisting of Quatermain himself, Captain Nemo, chemist Mina Harker, and invisible thief Rodney Skinner. M sends the group to recruit their fifth member, immortal Dorian Gray, who remains youthful while a currently missing portrait of himself ages. Dorian once was infatuated with Mina, but refuses to join the team. The Fantom and his assassins attack, but thanks to the presence of U.S. Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer, the assassins are defeated, although the Fantom escapes. Mina is revealed to be a vampire, a result of her past encounter with Count Dracula. Dorian and Sawyer join the team and set off in Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, to recruit their final member, Mr. Hyde…
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen assembles a splendid team of heroes to battle a plan for world domination, and then, just when it seems about to become a real corker of an adventure movie, plunges into incomprehensible action, idiotic dialogue, inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy. What a mess.” Roger Ebert, Rogerebert.com
“Logic and continuity fly out the window. True, the effects and sets are marvellously fantastical and there are one or two neat comical allusions to the heroes’ literary roots. But where’s the excitement, the thrills, the tension, the style?” Derek Adams, Time Out
“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.” Kevin Carr, Film Threat
” … like The Mummy Returns and other failed fantasy blockbusters, The League falters around halfway through, and becomes the type of bloated, CG-driven video game that the first previews had indicated. The film loses its sense of excitement in favor of some very cheesy special effects (particularly another cousin of the Hulk, only blood-red). There also seems to be a strong effort to make the film bigger and bigger right up until the finale. There are some exciting moments even then, but the climax turns out to be a major letdown.” Cinema Blend
“By the time the League actually does something, the film drowns in its own forced spectacle. Fight scenes are shoddily edited, ridiculous set-pieces fail to hide woeful effects and worse are the bewildering array of continuity errors. Anyone who has seen Blade knows that Norrington can direct slick action fare, but there’s scant evidence here. No matter how troubled the shoot was, the movie was shanghaied from the off, courtesy of Hollywood’s dependence on market-defined ‘success’.” Danny Graydon, Empire Magazine
“The problems pretty much begin and end with Sean Connery. On paper, he’s a natural choice to play the ageing – no, aged – Quatermain. But Connery, who also acts as an executive producer, isn’t content to be a team player. So what we’ve got here, ladies and gents, is a star vehicle, the revered Scotsman moulding Quatermain from the opium addict of the comic into an unstoppable septuagenarian with Arnie-style quips. Too often, this feels like a League Of One.” Total Film
“The trouble with having seven protagonists is that you need seven antagonists, seven backstories, seven ‘struggles against adversity’ and seven resolutions. So some of it gets a bit rushed, quite a few backstories are recounted in a matter of nanoseconds, and towards the end the action switches constantly between about four or five different battles, with Mina fighting Dorian and Quatermain fighting Moriarty and Skinner fighting another invisible man and Hyde fighting another Hyde. It’s all done in a very fast-pace, but at least it does get done at all; at least all the characters have character.” Fully Ramblomatic