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Film studios love an all-star franchise movie – and why wouldn’t they? If one beloved screen character can attract a built-in audience, then a movie that unites a whole gang of iconic figures should be as close to a commercial no-brainer as it’s possible to get, presuming the hunger to see said characters united onscreen is as strong as you’re anticipating. That’s the theory behind modern all-star movies like The Avengers, Suicide Squad and Justice League – not to mention Netflix Marvel’s The Defenders, and fifteen years ago it was – presumably – the school of thought that saw Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen promoted from graphic novel to major Hollywood action movie.
In reality of course, all-star movies fail as often as they succeed, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has gone down in history as a spectacular failure. So much so in fact, that not only did it kill the fledgling franchise in infancy, it also effectively ended the movie careers of both its director and its top-billed star. Following a recommendation by our friends at the Blokebusters podcast, we revisited League to investigate whether it really was as big of a clusterfuck as its reputation suggests. We weren’t disappointed.
In many ways, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the Suicide Squad of its day, squandering a decent premise on incomprehensible storytelling, woeful dialogue and paper thin characterisations. The film notably lacks high-wattage star power besides Connery, whose exorbitant $17 million salary to play the lead role of Allan Quatermain effectively crippled the movie from the outset, forcing producers to pad out the rest of the cast with lesser known actors.
There’s also a clear lack of confidence in the source material. The film bears little resemblance to Alan Moore’s comic book series, sidelining the likes of Mina Harker and Captain Nemo and nonsensically crowbarring in a decidedly off-canon Tom Sawyer to satisfy studio demands to add a teen-friendly American star to the cast.
With eight lead characters to introduce, most of whom would be relatively unfamiliar to younger viewers who hadn’t boned up on the comic books or 19th century literature beforehand, the first half of the movie is pretty much all set-up, and when the plot does eventually get moving, it’s so ridiculously convoluted and packed with holes that it’s genuinely near-impossible to follow.
Released in Summer 2003, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen opened a distant second at the US box office to a much smarter fantasy blockbuster – the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. That franchise continues to wear out its welcome with money-spinning sequels to this day, but The League was effectively canned for the next fifteen years. Rumours abound that a reboot will appear sooner or later, and given the current dominance of established comic book fare at the global box office, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it revived in the near future.
Until then though, we’ll just have to fantasise about what might have been, which just so happens to be our specialty…
Tune into this week’s episode to hear our ideas for what a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie could look like in 2017, including our exhausted attempts to piece together the original plot and some much-needed drinking games to help you get through your next re-watch. Our show is available on most major Podcasting platforms, so just follow the links at the top of this blog, and please consider hitting subscribe and/or leaving a review if you like what you hear.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this film, or any other standalone movies you’d like us to dust off for a new generation. You can reach us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, or by leaving a comment underneath this blog. As an added incentive, we’ll read out our favourite comments on a future episode of the show.