The month of horror films and all things scary is over and that means my semi-regular feature of Was it THAT Bad? is back and returning to its comic roots. It’s the article where I’m asking the important question and Chris has once again thrown down the gauntlet and this time has asked me to watch The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s been many, many years since I’ve watched this one and kinda remember thinking it was okay when it came out but now that we are living in the golden era of comic book adaptation, I am asking the question: Was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that bad?
Based (very loosely) on the comic book series by the legendary Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill, this film takes place in an alternate Victorian Era where all the popular characters from timeless stories by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker and many more aren’t fictional characters at all but real people and they are all called together to stop a madman from bringing the world to its knees. It’s Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, the legally-different Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer and Dr. Henry Jekyll to the rescue! Literary Characters Assemble!
So, was it THAT bad?
Short answer: Yeah. In fact, it’s worse than I remember.
When this hit the theaters I went and saw it with a friend. I was completely unfamiliar with the comic and walked out kinda enjoying it. I even bought it on DVD when it came out but, not long after that, I never really thought of it again. I always heard the complaints about it and heard how it forced Sean Connery into retirement and the director, Stephen Norrington, to never work again. Since that time I became more familiar with the source material and now, after probably about ten years since I watched it last, I can honestly say I think the bad reviews and lingering distaste it left in audience’s mouth are dead on.
Now, what’s so bad about his film?
Well, for one, this film deviates greatly from the comics. When this came out, we were still 5 years away from Marvel Studios churning out Iron Man and showing the world that you can make a successful comic book film that is both true to the source material and tweaked enough that mainstream audiences can latch on. This film feels so different that it never really captures the essence of what the comic book was or even what this film in general should be. Beyond this issue, the entire film suffers from a horrible and uneasy balance of literally every aspect in it.
For the most part, the performances are terribly over-the-top and pretty cheesy. However, on the flipside, some of the performances are genuinely good. For example, Sean Connery is excellent as Alan Quatermain. Then you have the special effects which will range from bad practical and CG effects to things that are actually kinda decent. Like the practical effects used to bring Mr. Hyde to life are actually kinda cool—except for the fact that his hands never open or close and the arms really only swing lifelessly. Finally, you have the action sequences which, mostly, are pretty forgettable and kinda dull. There are the exceptions like the shootout in Dorian Gray’s home or the pretty cool martial arts moments with Captain Nemo but, for the rest of the time, there’s nothing really worth talking about when it concerns action.
Ultimately, though, decent special effects, memorable action and great acting couldn’t have saved this film because it really is just a mess. For starters, the team, villain and even the entire conflict of the tale is horribly developed. The plot progresses haphazardly and feels like a first draft at its best and like it was made up on the spot at worst. Despite the fact that the film states that the world is in peril and only these characters can come together to save it, you never actually feel like there’s any real drama or tension. Even a moment where Mr. Hyde goes against his preconceived character attributes and makes a noble gesture to save the lives of some people in danger feels empty and hollow and not the momentous bit of heroics and character development that it should have been. The whole product lacks weight, depth, intrigue and excitement.
Yes, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was THAT bad. It’s a messy film that is the embodiment of the bad comic book adaptations of the late 80s and early 90s (but made in the early 2000s). The worst part is that it actually held a ton of potential and promise to be something great. In 2013, it was reported that Fox was going to make it a television series and, honestly, that’s not that bad of an idea. Why not try to give this property another go at a decent adaptation?