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.
Gorgeous submarine.
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
Stuff with Hulk Hyde 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.
Zombie Quatermain.

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.

1890s Movies

(I know Despicable Me 2 doesn’t fit. I watch it for the exhilaration.)

Filed in Writing

22 Comments to 'Huh. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'

On January 17, 2014 at 10:20 am Bridget said...

Confession – I will watch Sean Connery do anything.

And I like this movie far more than it deserves.

Your fast talker should be Tom Sawyer -He was a fast talking con man when he was 12 – I can’t help but believe he got better at it. I realize the periods are off from the original novel BUT Twain did write a novel called Tom Sawyer Detective and I think that’s what they were basing his character on in the film.

It might have been interesting if they left the setup the way it was and then had Holmes come in from the outside to let Quartermain know he’s been set up. Because to be honest, I don’t remember Quartermain has the brilliant type = more as the brave, adventurous type.

But like you – I think there were too many characters and a lot more physical violence than the steampunk should have.

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm BelleD said...

I used to think I could watch Sean Connery in anything, but when I heard that he passed on Lord of the Rings (Gandolf, he passed on Gandolf!!!!) because he “didn’t understand the role”; and then he did this mess of a movie (IMHO, a knee jerk reaction to refusing the Gandolf role), I lost interest in watching him all together.

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm Kate George said...

If you ask me (Yeah I know nobody did,) Despicable Me 2 is the best of the bunch! Love and minions – how could you ask for more? I’ve watched this movie (TLoEG) and I only remember bits and pieces while Despicable Me 2 will live on forever in my soul – Along with the first Despicable Me which I loved even without the romance.

Now if i was going to assemble a group of people for their powers a) I wouldn’t want doppelgangers – I’d want those powers for myself. Way more control that way, b) Hell I can’t remember B. What the hell is wrong with my brain I can’t remember something for as long as it takes to write a sentence?

So who would I assemble? First a couple of good looking Men just to keep around to look at. Possibly just to suck up and compliment me. I’m shallow like that. The others I would steal super powers from and have them as my own: Tony Stark and his amazing computer – I want the brain and the ability to create anything I want right now. Buffy the Vampire Slayer because I want to be able to kick ass. Spock for his logic without emotion. The Hulk for emotion without logic – or maybe with Buffy the Hulk is overkill. I’ll think about that. I need somebody who has a huge capacity to love without losing themself – maybe this is Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man movies – I’m not sure, I need Sophie for sweet talking people, Molly Weasley, so the house would clean itself and for her bravery. Donald Trump so i could make money work for me. Am I missing anything?

Thumb up 3

On January 18, 2014 at 8:00 am Micki said...

(-: I was just wondering which modern characters would make a fin de millennium version. (Haven’t seen the original, so I can’t play, but this is fun, Kate.)

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm Bonnie C said...

This movie was awful. And please keep in mind that I have a very low bar and a very high tolerance. I did not read the graphic novels (I tried but kept wandering away… just not my thing) but was surrounded by people who *did* and the PTSD coming off them when we exited the theater was impressive. As I understand it, the books are a lot snarkier and more on point with what you were hoping the movie would be.

Are you researching 1890s in general or period set action/adventure/steam punk in particular? There’s always the Will Smith tragedy Wild Wild West… at least it’s pretty – lol! (See: low bar, high tolerance above ;p)

Thumb up 1

On January 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm Not writer Beth said...

What WAS Will Smith thinking about in that…

Thumb up 4

On January 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm Chris J. said...

Probably, “Jesus Christ, this script SUUUUCKS!”

I was so excited when I first head the casting. Will Smith as Jim West! Daring and intriguing! Kevin Kline as Artemis Gordon! Perfect! Kenneth Branagh as Loveless, an amputee instead of a dwarf, yes, I can see that working.

Then I saw the movie, and I was so horrified and sad. I felt bad for all the actors.

Thumb up 4

On January 17, 2014 at 4:05 pm McB said...

The movie was spoofing the series, but the series was basically James Bond in the Wild West, so they were spoofing a spoof … it was bound to go bad. That show was a beloved part of my childhood, and the movie would have been a great introduction for a new audience. It’s just sad that they blew such a great opportunity.

Thumb up 3

On January 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm Allie said...

“PTSD” is actually a great way of describing it. (Although I just read The Impossible Knife of Memory and feel like I can’t even with that.) My bff and I went and we were so physically ill we thought we were going to have to use the popcorn bag to throw up into. We were clutching each other’s hands until we thought blood was going to come out. And, afterward, we said, “…It wasn’t a bad popcorn flick…” and only brought it up in times of venom, along with Jessica Alba as Sue Storm and Superman Returns. And X3.

Thumb up 1

On January 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm Lynda said...

I’m not sure this is what you’re looking for, but a movie set in the right period is THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS, which involves Michael Douglas hunting man-killing lions in Africa. It’s supposed to be based on a true story, but the lions were practically supernatural. Just a thought.

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 3:18 pm Pamela Toler said...

I know you’re trashing this and Van Helsing, but you do it in such an interesting way that I now want to watch them. This is so wrong.

Thumb up 4

On January 17, 2014 at 3:59 pm McB said...

I think Tom Sawyer was brought in so that there was an American in the cast, and one that everyone would be familiar with. Otherwise you have a lot of literary/graphic novel characters without a target audience. I suspect most of the audience for this movie had no idea who Dorian Gray is, or Mina for that matter. Vampires? Sure. But not the Bram Stoker characters. But every Yank knows Tom Sawyer. It doesn’t fit, but since they don’t know any of the other character, they wouldn’t know that.

Thumb up 1

On January 19, 2014 at 8:39 am JulieB/Julie Spahn said...

I do think that’s why they brought him in too, but I remember thinking “WTF?” both times I saw it.
I also think it shows that the author(s) must respect and trust his/her (or in Hollywood’s case their since some many people noodle with scripts) audience. It is typical of the blockbuster “teen” targeting that Hollywood can cycle into. Except, there are a lot of teens that love good movies with good plots. And those make piles upon piles of more money.
FWIW, I watched this w. my husband, BIL,
and SIL first when the kids were too little, then more recently with them. We were probably never the intended marketing demographic. ;)

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 5:20 pm Skye said...

I have a very low bar. I enjoyed most of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I found it entertaining and escapist because I haven’t achieved a critical storyteller’s eye (or have let it lie dormant for a long time). Tom Sawyer did stick out like a sore thumb because he didn’t have any of the class or distinguishing factors of the others (unless you count an American southern-ish accent and lots of aw-shucks behavior). I did feel that Mina should have looked upon the deteriorating Gray with satisfaction, not horror, and couldn’t fathom why Moriarty would want to equip the world’s evil guys with all these superpowers so they could rival him. Dumb. But still, very pretty and I totally loved the Hulk and Mina the best. This is a great more critical way of looking at it; won’t ruin the story for me cuz I’ll watch it again, but I’ll probably have an added perception of it going in.

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 7:47 pm Flo said...

While I like Van Helsing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I like them for the sheer “hey, how do we shoehorn another explosion into this movie?” vibe I get from their “plots.” I also think your recasting of Helsing and cleaned up version of LoEG would have been much, much better plots than I expect from action films.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first 40 minutes or so of White House Down for showing us a character’s backstory, goals, and motivations very clearly with a nice bit of conflict without any explosions. It was a bit heavy-handed through the interview as far as infodump, but I think Maggie Gyllenhaal makes that scene work. The ending goes flying off the rails into shoehorning more things that go boom, but the beginning is worth watching.

I’m horrible with guessing time periods, but would Finding Neverland be another candidate to watch for 1890s set building?

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 10:42 pm Justine Covington said...

I’m with you on White House Down. I tend to only like Star Wars or Marvel exploding movies (yes, I’m weird that way), but I thought they did a great job explaining to us who Tatum Channing’s character was, and the comedy/interaction between Channing and Foxx towards the end was fun to watch, despite the explosions.

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 8:08 pm kay said...

They don’t question how Tom Sawyer would know how to drive a car, when people are still using horse and carriages! Also when did Dorian learn to drive a submarine. Still the Library scene is great, Quatermain & Mina are well worth watching, It was just clunky, first you had to believe technology could be so advanced from the norm and then that people would take it in their stride. So of course the world’s best scientists can recreate stuff that they haven’t even imagined existing from a photo of the outside of the equipment, While in this era, the best & brightest, can’t copy something Tony Stark built from scraps in a cave:)

Thumb up 1

On January 17, 2014 at 9:07 pm Kelly S said...

Despicable Me 2 is exhilarating? It’s on my to be watched list. I’m looking forward to seeing it. Christmas was excellent because a station was doing a Drwamworks marathon. I got to see How to Tame Your Dragon (loved it) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (also loved it but for the sad part) for he first time. Rematches Megamind (ok). Missed Shrek Ever After.

Thumb up 0

On January 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm Justine Covington said...

Despicable Me 2 is just a fantastic movie and so fun to watch. My kids have taken to talking like minions (gets reeeeeeeealy old after awhile) and whenever an accident or something like that happens, they start running around yelling, “Bee-doo, bee-doo, bee-doo.” *sigh*

Thumb up 0

On January 19, 2014 at 10:23 am Not writer Beth said...

When my daughter (5 1/2 years old) starts going “pretty pretty please” I often respond with “The physical appearance of the please makes no difference” which I realize is from the first movie.

Also, there’s a Minions movie due to be released in 2015, according to IMDB.

Thumb up 0

On January 19, 2014 at 10:24 am Not writer Beth said...

And my 4 year old son does the Bee-doo stuff too. So I’m sighing right along with you.

Thumb up 0

On January 19, 2014 at 8:49 am JulieB/Julie Spahn said...

The other problem I have with the Tom Sawyer “casting” is that it messes with reader expectations. And I’m not sure I would have liked Sherlock Holmes in this any better.

(Now, I have not read Holmes, I may be wrong, and please correct me if so.)

My issue, aside from the wrong place in time, is that all the other characters have a supernatural element in their history. Sawyer does not. (I don’t believe Holmes does, but I could be wrong. I think he finds explanations for everything.) I guess you could debate that there is a scientific reason for Mr. Hyde, but that story still seems, to me, to be an early horror story and a precursor to science fiction, more like Capt. Nemo. I think I would have had a problem with Moriarity (but maybe less so) but taking Sawyer out of his element so completely just bothered me through the whole thing.

Thumb up 0