Huh. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Subtitle: Another 1890s movie watched for over-the-top period detail for research.
Okay, I know this one started life as a graphic novel, but I think adaptations should be judged as stories on their own, so I’m ignoring that. The one useful thing I got from the whole movie is the library set twenty-two minutes in, so I’m skipping over my writing notes and going to the story notes:
Richard Roxburgh is in everything.
Why isn’t Mina in charge?
Too many principal characters.
Too much expository dialogue.
Very slow story.
Emotion: [I'm] mourning Venice, not people.
Too many characters attached to chaotic plot
Gray’s not very good at tying up loose ends, flashy escape not smart
Tom Sawyer hitting on Mina Harker: so wrong
Recording as exposition fairy
HulkHyde is great
Really beautiful production
Exposition killed this movie
Moriarty w/o Sherlock: combination [of characters] makes no sense
Why does Mina have an army of bats?
Maniacal laughter never works.
Mina vs. Gray: fun.
There were a couple of good movies buried in this mess.
Love the doppelgänger stuff.
And now some more coherent thoughts:
I like the idea of the mix of fictional characters, a League of Supernatural Justice, but I don’t get Tom Sawyer in here. (I know, he wasn’t in the original, but we’re not talking about the original.) I think when you do ensemble pieces, the community you assemble has to make sense. The Avengers springs to mind, assembled by Nick Fury because of their personalities and talents. Or the Leverage group, deliberately chosen to do a high-tech heist. But this group is assembled by Moriarty so he can harvest their talents which is the dumbest idea any super-villain has ever come up with. “Let’s take my strongest enemies, bring them together, and then shoot at them so they fuse into a unit.” This must be the real Moriarty’s younger, dumber brother.
So you want Moriarty. Fine. Bring in Sherlock Holmes, that’s a no brainer. Keep vampire Mina although I still want to know why she gets an army of bats, and okay, if she has to have an army of bats, why don’t we ever see her with them? They’re really wonderful animals, little flying dachshunds that eat mosquitoes. Hers seem to have razor blades for wings, but that’s okay. I just think that’s a huge opportunity missed. Think of the promotional toys.
Where was I?
Right, you’ve got Sherlock instead of Quatermain (but you can keep Connery playing him) and Mina, and they seem like a natural, especially since we’re going for steampunk here. Then Captain Nemo absolutely fits although making the Nautilus look like part of the Carnival Cruise line kind of takes the steampunky tension off things; I kept looking for the open buffet and the girl in the sequined dress doing cover songs. The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll, all the right period, but it’s getting kinda crowded now. Then there’s Tom Sawyer who’s the wrong time period, the wrong country, and the wrong vibe. Whose idea was that, anyway? Also, I get that Moriarty wanted the people he wanted because he wanted to harvest their attributes, but there were much easier ways to do that, separately. How hard is it to get skin cells from the Invisible Man when he’s right there in your dining room, wearing a coat and mime make-up?
So if I were assembling a fin de siecle Avengers, I’d look at group dynamics. Sherlock Holmes for brains and masterminding things. Mina Harker for science and ripping people’s throat out, plus she has a bat army, always good. The Invisible Man for stealing things and spying. Captain Nemo for transportation and hand-to-hand combat with swords. I’ll even buy Hyde for muscle. What we’re missing, though, is the grifter/smooth talker, the Sophie, the Black Widow, the one that balances all the hand-to-hand stuff with mouth-to-mouth. It wasn’t Dorian Gray, he was just smarmy and annoying (really, Mina, what were you thinking?).
Which leads me to this conclusion: the thing that kneecaps these CGI-addicted movies isn’t just that they sacrifice character, doing exposition dumps to get past the hard work of actually showing character instead of just describing it, it’s that the characters they use are all the same incredibly powerful beings who solve everything with violence. In this movie, every major character gets his or her big battle at the end, but they’re all the same battle: as the Hulk would say, “SMASH.” Nobody wins by being clever, by outsmarting the other guy, by doing something unexpected. They’re all hammers, looking for nails.
Having said that, I did like the doppelgänger battles, especially Mina the Undead fighting Gray the Undead, but also Hyde vs Bad Super Hyde, and the Invisible Man vs Evil Invisible Man (that one less) and even Quatermain vs Moriarty, Mastermind vs Mastermind. The problem is, we know who’s going to win, the fun is in seeing how they win, and in the movie, they all win the same way: lots of bashing and good luck. If I have to watch five (?) final battles, I want five different final battles. Which, come to think of it, was probably why I enjoyed Mina vs. Gray so much, although I could have done without her look of horror as he died; what did she think was going to happen, a beautiful faint? The woman rips people’s throats out and then licks her lips, but a disintegrating corpse makes her eyes widen? Come on, Mina, this is the guy who betrayed you. If there was ever a time for maniacal laughter, it’s now.
So I think the key is, assemble a (small) group of people with interlocking skills (no great wealth or huge crews, bats excepted) and pit them against a mastermind that’s stronger and smarter than they are (no maniacal laughter or making your enemies into a team for no good reason or explaining your evil plan by monologuing in a filmstrip), and then showcase their characters by the variety in their conflict resolutions, not by having them explain themselves to each other and then solve everything by bashing something. Doppelgängers are good, and now that I’ve thought it through, I’m in favor of Mina’s cloud of bats, but no Tom Sawyer thrown in to get the teen girl vote. No huge factories with so many people running around in them you don’t know what the hell is going on. And no zombie Quatermain at the end. He fought the good fight, let him die.
Since somebody asked, tomorrow night I’m rewatching the Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes. I like that one, and I deserve a good one after this and Van Helsing. Then Adele Blanc Sec.
(I know Despicable Me 2 doesn’t fit. I watch it for the exhilaration.)