I take a look at a movie that genuinely shouldn’t have been able to fail, but did.
A century before it was time to party like it’s 1999, a terrorist named the Fantom (Richard Roxburgh) commits crimes in both Britain and Germany implying each time to be working for the other country. This brings the world to the brink of all-out war (despite the fact that in 1899 Britain and Germany were still military allies). The British Empire tries to recruit adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), who refuses until assassins attempt to kill him and end up killing one of his longtime friends. In London, Quatermain meets M, the head of British intelligence, who reveals that the Fantom plans to bomb the peace talks that are set to occur in Venice. This will apparently start a World War, despite, again, the fact that both sides have agreed that the Fantom is behind it and that both sides have been openly attacked by him. This premise is dumb, is what I’m saying.
To combat the Fantom, M plans to resurrect a former special ops team, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This generation will consist of Quatermain, Indian engineer Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dracula’s sire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), and invisible thief Skinner (Tony Curran). While attempting to recruit the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), the team is attacked by the Fantom and saved by the intervention of US Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). The group then manages to capture Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) whose counterpart, Dr. Jekyll, joins the League in exchange for amnesty. The group travels to Venice to stop the Fantom, but don’t find the bombs until it’s too late and a chain reaction starts to sink Venice under the sea. Sawyer uses a car and a homing missile to stop the reaction and save the peace talks.
It’s then revealed that Dorian Gray and M have been behind this entire affair in order to steal the secrets of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They plan to duplicate all of the powers of the members and sell them off to the highest bidder. They then bomb the Nautilus, but Hyde saves the submarine. It’s revealed that Skinner is onboard the ship Gray used to escape and is sending the coordinates to the Nautilus. The team arrives in Northern Mongolia and attacks M’s compound. Mina, who dated Dorian, kills him, while the rest of the team destroys the factory. M is revealed to be James Moriarity, arch nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, who kills Quatermain. Moriarity is then killed by Sawyer and the League’s secrets fall into a frozen river. The rest of the team bury Quatermain in Africa while mentioning that a shaman had decreed that Africa would never let him die. The shaman appears and the Earth shakes as a lightning bolt strikes Quatermain’s grave.
This movie should have been one of the easiest properties to make interesting. It deals with some of the most interesting literary figures which are now part of the public domain. Yet, somehow, this movie manages to alternate between being pointlessly convoluted and mind-numbingly boring. Even more upsetting, there are clearly the bones of a legitimately good movie buried in here somewhere under the mediocre action sequences and washed-out colors. So what would need to change for this movie to be done right?
Well, part of it would be to at least try to think about actually adapting the comic series on which this movie was supposedly based. Granted, apparently the film was so close to another proposed script that Fox was sued over it, with the lawsuit claiming they bought the rights to the comic just so they could adapt the script without paying the authors. While that’s probably not true, the film does change a number of things for the worse.
First, it added Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer to the team, meaning that we now had seven main characters to try and follow, which just makes the film more convoluted and the characterization weaker. Second, the villain in this was stupid. He looks stupid, his plans are stupid, and the reveal that he’s supposed to be one of the smartest villains in literature, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, only makes everything else so much worse. Third, the series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like most of Alan Moore’s work, is deeply cynical. The main characters in the comics are mostly broken individuals: Mina, who is not a vampire, is a cold and calculating agent and the central character of the series; Quatermain is a drug addict; The Invisible Man is a rapist; Hyde is a psychopath; and Nemo mostly just hates the British. Even Moriarity is revealed to actually just be working on behalf of the empire. This film lacks any of that dark edge, instead replacing it with literally dark filming. Last, the characters are too unbalanced. Mina, as a vampire, can literally take out an army. Hyde, since he’s fairly controllable in this, is essentially the Hulk. Nemo has rockets and GPS navigation (fun aside: The rockets make sense as Nemo’s uncle in the Verne works was the inventor of the two-stage rocket). Quatermain and Sawyer, the focus of the film, are basically the Hawkeye of this team, but without the quips.
Then there are the other things that have bothered me so much more on rewatch. Dracula takes place in the 1880s and 1890s, meaning that Mina, who apparently was turned into a vampire in this universe rather than being saved, has only been a vampire for a few years. Apparently she has since dumped her fiance and dated Gray, but the two act like it’s been forever since then. Also, the car. Nemo shows them the vehicle and says he calls it an “automobile” like he came up with the word. It’s 1899, we’ve had cars for over a decade. They’re not popular, but they’re certainly a thing that most people in a major city would have seen at this point. That’s not even counting the steam powered models from the 1750s.
So, how do you make this movie better? First, you need to either tone down the powers on some of the characters or up the villain’s resources. Even after Moriarity supposedly has all of the powers of the team at his disposal, plus bulletproof troops with flamethrowers, and yet we only see a single invisible assassin (who is apparently an idiot), and a single super-Hyde, both of whom get killed in under two minutes. It always seems like the film has to go out of its way to try and slow down the plot points just so the situations aren’t instantly resolved by some of the characters. Either nerf the protagonists or give the villain something more interesting to work with. Second, either give the movie the cynical and grotesque at times edge of the comic or, alternatively, make it brighter and lighter and just more fun. This movie was forgettably generic because it tried to be superficially dark. Either be R-rated or be fun (or be Deadpool and do both), but don’t try to split the difference. Third, BE F**KING INTERESTING. So much of this movie is just dull conversations and long silences that don’t do anything to further the plot or deepen the characters. Seriously, how come no one is more interested in the vampire on board or the immortal or even how Tom Sawyer started working for the US Secret Service? I mean, the last Tom Sawyer story is Tom Sawyer, Detective, so it kind of makes sense, but I’m curious how he got to the point of international spy. But none of these are explored.
Overall, this movie sucks, and I really hope that it gets remade, possibly as a TV show, because it had a solid premise.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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