If you look at the word itself, the term 'extraordinary' means just that, extra when compared to ordinary, or outside the normal bounds of what one would consider ordinary. If we take this definition literally, then The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is just that. If, however, we take the term to mean that the film is beyond ordinary, then we will find it lacking as more than a somewhat unique, frenetic action picture with an interesting back-story.
Picture the turn of the century. No, not that one, the one before you were born. It was a time where the sun only shone at sea and in Africa. It was a time when a madman was trying to stir up hostilities between England and Germany. It was also on an alternate earth, where so many names were so very, very different from what we've read about them here. Or haven't read about them, which turns out to be one of the movies failings.
LGX is a story of seven unique individuals from classic literature: Allen Quartermain (Sean Connery), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), The Invisible Man a.k.a. Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), Tom Sawyer (Shane West) and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng). If you've noticed that one of the 'Gentlemen' is in fact a woman, you're quite attentive, but this isn't actually one of the flaws that sinks this film faster than the Nautilus with holes blown in it.
In order to fully appreciate this film, you should have needed to have read most (if not all) of the literature in which they are drawn from. I was unfamiliar with Dorian Gray, but knew a fair bit about the rest, so I felt reasonably secure going into the film that I'd understand it. Unfortunately, from a very literature-intensive and intelligent graphic novel by Alan Moore, we devolved faster than Jekyll-to-Hyde into a mediocre plot. The writers apparently felt the need to 'dumb down' this film for a classically illiterate audience. Thus, LXG ends up being like a very disappointing gift wrapped in the most beautiful paper and ribbons in existence.
The plot is cookie-cutter bad action film-style. Maniacal evil villain, scarred and in mask: Check. Old mentor-type who leads and teaches the young cocky kid discipline: Check. Boring sexual tension between the one woman and just about every other male in the movie: Check. Fortunately, there are a few clever plot mis-directions that keep it from being a total bore story-wise. But then there's that wrapping paper, and those ribbons... they almost make the gift itself irrelevant... almost.
The atmosphere of this film is, simply put, amazing. The feel of the settings, the textures of the visual image, are gritty and real. Lighting and sets make this film, and the ambiance of the various locales, from Victorian libraries to the palatial interiors of the Nautilus itself, give it a larger-than-life feel. Speaking of which, let us discuss the Nautilus for a moment. The submarine of Jules Verne's imagination has never received so elegant a treatment as it does in this film. The interiors are like an eastern palace, and the ship itself, called "the Sword of the Sea" looks just like an elongated, straightened scimitar, complete with the notch in the tip of the sword-blade for the prow. The ship is one of the true visual highlights of the film... but not the only one.
Jason Flemyng's Dr. Jekyll is nothing to write home about, it's a rather bland, neurotic portrayal, but one senses this might have been done on purpose to further contrast with the wonderful Edward Hyde character. Visually, this film has lessons to teach to the makers of 'The Hulk' on how to do believable, likable characters of enormous size. With Flemyng's own face placed on the CGI construct, Hyde becomes a fearsome, devilish, almost likable rogue who ends up pulling his weight more times than anyone else in the film, save perhaps Sawyer. Mr. Hyde seems to embody the Musketeer oath in a way unlike any other in the story, and for that reason he earns the audiences respect and loyalty.
On individual performances, Stuart Townsend and Tony Curran steal top honors. Townsend's Dorian is a cad, arrogant and impassive, and although there are no surprises about his character, the resolution of his particular storyline is satisfying. Tony Curran, however, gets best performance honors in this film. As an invisible man, he must make his role work without the benefit of being seen for the bulk of his 'screen time', and thus his voice becomes so rich, so emotive, that you're able to sense what his facial expressions would be if they could be seen. His character is that of the playful rogue, and he delivers a perfect performance of that archetype.
An honorable mention, however, must go to Naseeruddin Shah for his portrayal of Captain Nemo. As the others are pulling firearms, the good Captain announces that he follows a different path, yanks a scimitar from his sash and begins to fight in a manner that would do Jackie Chan proud. While his delivery may have been somewhat stilted and unemotional, his physical acting was passionate and the superior to all others in the film.
The rest of the cast are so-so. Connery is Connery, he gives nothing more or less than what you would expect of him, West is cocky but at least believably so, Wilson is seductive and violently passionate when appropriate, but otherwise is as cold on-screen as her character is purported to be physically. The entire group dynamic is assumed and rushed, and thus we only begin to truly perceive them as a group in the last scene of the film where they leave together.
Dan Lausten's cinematography is nothing short of beautiful. The film has a visually striking flavor that extends from the opening shot through the closing credits. Likewise, Trevor Jone's musical score is excellent, bringing in several different motifs from several different cultures to keep the emotional floor of the film constantly moving and shifting from one level to another.
Overall, I give this film a B-. It's a beautiful film, and it sounds as wonderful as it looks, but what exists inside the visual images, sounds and songs is simply not worthy of its wrapping.