What is a good movie? Does it provide a commentary on the world? Does it change our perspective in new and interesting ways? Perhaps it forces us to analyse our behaviour or our interpersonal relationships. Or maybe it’s just designed to entertain. No matter which way you define “good” it’s hard to deny The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a good movie.
Yes, thousands have spent the two decades since its release dunking on it, to the point where it’s become entrenched as a certified Rotten Tomato (it’s currently sitting at 17 per cent). It even reportedly caused Sean Connery to hang up his acting hat after the film was publicly caned by critics.
But The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is far better than anyone gives it credit for, and 2020 is the perfect time to revisit it.
In 2003, superhero-style team-ups were rare. Stories pairing famous literary characters in gothic adventures were even rarer. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a strange, gothic anomaly — and because it had no rivals, it was free to be the loosest, stupidest movie it could possibly be. And it was. And it was great.
First, let’s sort out some bugbears with the film.
The CGI is extremely unimpressive. This was 2003 after all, and heavy monster CGI was still in its infancy. In 2020, it looks bloody awful but that’s pretty par for the course of the era, and we can’t fault it here. It’s no different to something you’d find in The Mummy, for example. The other thing you have to forget is that it’s supposed to adapt Alan Moore’s iconic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic. Just don’t worry about it. If you think about it as an adaptation, you’ll immediately and unconditionally hate it.
But come at it from the right perspective, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an absolute blast.
Every single member of this cast knows exactly what kind of movie they’re in. Stuart Townsend makes for a delightfully smug Dorian Gray. Peta Wilson is a scene-stealer as vampire Mina Harker, even when she’s being berated by Sean Connery’s sexist Allan Quatermain. It’s certainly a product of its era, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolute fun — or that the actors don’t know what they’re doing. Except maybe Sean Connery. It seems like he was expecting something far different from the monster movie about battling Sherlock Holmes’ rival, Professor Moriarty.
But all entertainment needs to be is fun and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is certainly fun.
I’m going to level with you: I don’t remember the exact plot of this movie. That probably means it’s an absolute mess. But who cares about plot when there’s journeys on giant submarines, bombs exploding in the Venice canal and vampires running wild on Victorian-era streets?
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is basically just big, dumb set piece after big, dumb set piece. It’s a dollar-store Avengers before Avengers was a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.
If Loki blowing up New York with an alien army is entertaining, then so is Moriarty pounding the shit out of Venice with experimental vampires and Hyde-beasts. There’s even an analogue to the scene-stealing fight between Hawkeye and Black Widow in Dorian Gray and Mina Harker’s steamy catfight in Gray’s bedroom. It’s easy to draw comparisons between them, but harder to admit they’re of the same calibre.
There’s certainly room in the entertainment industry for big, dumb action movies and that’s just what The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is. Much of the criticism levelled against it focussed on the lack of narrative cohesion and its silly premise, but arguably the action glues the package back together in a messy, creatively-charged bow.
Silly movies can be good. Even stupid movies can be good. If you enjoy a movie, it’s good.
By that criteria, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen can be considered a good movie. Nay, it is a good movie. I am not too much of a coward to say so. At its core, the film is a big, dumb romp. It’s extraordinarily entertaining, and that’s all it needs to be.