Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Posted By and on Wed, Jul 16, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Geezer: 1 star
Weezer: 2 stars

This may not be summer’s last shot when it comes to comic-book movies, but the whole trend is starting to feel a lot like wanking: more and more strokes, but not much love. Director Stephen Norrington (Blade, 1998), with very little help from screenwriter James Dale Robinson, wastes the rich potential of Alan Moore’s graphic series, particularly as concerns the amazing list of 19th century fantasy characters who make up the League: H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo, Bram Stoker’s Mina Harker, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with guest appearances by Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. With all that personality power, you’d think there’d be more to LXG than crash, bang, shoot, shoot, but there really isn’t.

Geezer: Have you ever read the comic book this film comes from?

Weezer: It’s pretty cool. When we had our discussion a few issues ago on the comics-to-movie phenomenon, we mentioned that a lot of flicks spend too much time on the superhero’s back-story, but this one makes its own rules and avoids that problem. LXG the comic book is R-rated, because the League isn’t a collection of heroes, of good people. It’s a group of corrupt, almost evil characters, so the comic is filled with swearing, sex and things like that. There’s cool action and story, but since these guys are kind of despicable, it’s more of an adult comic book. And by making this film PG-13, you lose all of that element — not just the violence or the sex, but the whole feel, the grittiness. The LXG is not a bunch of superheroes — they’re characters that are supposed to have issues and problems.

Geezer: When Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) makes out with Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), for a minute or so this movie starts to get some fire going. I don’t know Moore’s comic, but when Dorian seduces Mina, with the little drink and the blood, it’s a moment that starts to have some guts to it. Yet it’s amazing that this film contains five or six of the most interesting literary personas of the 19th century and manages to somehow be boring, washed out. Mina Harker is a fascinating character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dorian Gray in the Oscar Wilde novel is unbelievable — in fact one of the few good things in this movie is when Gray meets his fate. Just for a second, it’s like wow, interesting.

Weezer: He’s one of my favorite characters here, and it’s funny because Dorian Gray
isn’t in the LXG comic books — the same with Tom Sawyer. Anyway, it’s absurd to have an American in this British-led team, and the kid (Shane West) who plays Sawyer is awful. The only other movie I remember him from is a terrible teen romantic comedy called A Walk to Remember.

Geezer: He’s a totally annoying, stupid presence here with no personality.

Weezer: They use nothing about him being Tom Sawyer.

Geezer: No, he’s just an American who likes to shoot guns. But the fact is that this movie likes to shoot guns and break things … and that’s where I’m finally reaching the saturation point. After a whole summer of seeing comic-book movies, I just can’t watch them anymore. It’s the same thing in every flick: Who can you shoot and how many times? Who can you smash? How can you beat a falling building before it crushes you? I’m not against action-adventure movies per se. I’ve seen a lot of great ones that strike a balance between story, characterization and feeling. And the action sequences turn out to be exhilarating, because they’re not the only thing that the movie’s about. When LXG shows itself to be only about action and fighting (except for one or two moments), I just get bored. Because of the cool character lineup, I wanted to like it, but somewhere about halfway through, I found myself fading fast.

Weezer: The action was entertaining for a while and I didn’t get as fed up with it as quickly as you did. It’s a pretty wonderful comic-book idea to unite all these literary heroes in the League. But the way it comes off here, with this super-villain creating all these super weapons that shouldn’t exist in the 19th century, and holding scientists hostage … you know which movie’s like that and is also bad? Wild Wild West, with Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Smith is your Tom Sawyer character who goes around shoot, shoot, shoot and ask questions later. You have the scientific guys with their wit and Salma Hayek is the attractive mole, the turncoat, like Dorian Gray here. It’s very much the same movie. Instead of Nemo’s ship, they have that souped-up train that they travel the country in, creating awful military gadgets so they can take over the world, though West was also a variation on the buddy flick. In LXG, you’ve got really cool characters, but they’re underused.

Geezer: There’s no chemistry between them. There’s a flash between Mina and Dorian, but Mina is miscast — Peta Wilson’s not seductive enough for the vampire role. There’s an attempt, that just doesn’t work, to show Quatermain (Sean Connery) bonding with Tom Sawyer. Connery has had an illustrious career, but it feels like they’re dragging this great old veteran through the movie. There’s no purpose for him to be here. The only sign of his classic personality is at the beginning when he’s sitting in the bar having a drink and for a few seconds we think, “here’s the adventure starting — here’s great old Sean Connery, the guy we want to go on an adventure with.” At that point, I couldn’t help remembering The Man Who Would Be King by John Huston, starring Connery and Michael Caine as two British officers stranded in Kafiristan. It’s a magnificent adventure, full of gripping psychology and freak-out twists, and Connery is fucking great in it, just like he is in so many movies.

I’m not against action flicks. I’m just against the idea of action becoming what you might call “pornographic” — where its only purpose is to show the money shot, the blood and violence. You’re somebody with lots of energy for this stuff, but when you see a film like this, don’t you get tired of the genre, don’t you wish you could watch something with some substance?

Weezer: I try to give all movies some benefit of the doubt, since I’m investing time in seeing them. Not that I expect every movie to be good, but I try to let every one take me on a journey. I like to enter each viewing with a blank slate and let the filmmakers take me on their ride. I see my fair share of horrible action films, but I always go in with the foolish optimism (that maybe you no longer have) that maybe somewhere something miraculous is going to happen … like, “Holy shit, the screenwriter did too much cocaine the week he was writing this particular part and the results are totally tripped out, really sweet, better than any action film ever.”

No one expected Die Hard to be anything. Bruce Willis was one of the last people to get cast for it. The studio wanted everyone in the world to be in it but him, but no one would take the role so he got it. Die Hard is my favorite action movie of all time. It’s got style. And I go see these movies hoping that one of them is going to be like Die Hard, a regular action film that suddenly turns into something awesome.

Geezer: Just let me know when you see the next great comic-book movie.

Weezer: Well, right now that’s X-Men 2. There are a few others coming up, but they’re going to be crap. Though LXG does one thing a lot of comic-book movies don’t: It creates its own world, and for that I’ll give it the extra star.

George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a recent high school graduate. E-mail them at gtysh@metrotimes.com.

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