The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


20th Century Fox

Produced by Trevor Albert and Don Murphy

Directed by Stephen Norrington

Screenplay by James Robinson

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

The concept of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is so simple that I’m honestly surprised nobody before Alan Moore thought of it. Here it is in a nutshell: From time to time many of the great fictional heroes (and sometimes villains) of the past and present have found it necessary to come together to form an alliance against evil so overwhelming that it threatens to conquer or destroy the world. They do so under the authority of a special Branch of The British Secret Service, under the direction of a mysterious figure known only as M and this alliance is known as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It is rumored that members of Leagues past and present have included Dr. Syn, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Blood, Lemuel Gulliver, Robin Hood, Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, James Bond, and many, many others. But this movie features a particularly unique grouping of The League, one led by the world famous adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery)

Allan Quatermain is an old man, living in Africa, drinking his days away and only wanting to be left alone. However, events in the rest of the world bring him back into action. A mysterious man known only as The Phantom is threatening the governments of the world into a global confrontation.  There is seemingly no way to stop him since he has advanced weapons such as automatic weapons, body armor and tanks. Quatermain is brought to London where he is introduced to M (Richard Roxburg), the current head of the British Secret Service who informs Quatermain that he has been chosen to lead the newest incarnation of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.   The membership includes Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), The Invisible Man (Tony Curran) and Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) who has the benefit of vampiric powers due to her relationship with an infamous Transylvanian count. Quatermain and his team quickly acquire the grown up Tom Sawyer (Shane West) who is now an agent of The United States Secret Service along with Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) and his monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) as well as the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend).   And they’re off an adventure that takes them all over the world from London to Paris to Venice to a final confrontation at the top of the world in the frozen Artic where the secrets of The Phantom are revealed and the destiny of a new century will be decided as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen make their final stand against the madness of the old.

You’re going to have a lot of comic book fans that will tell you not to see THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN as they feel that the movie bastardized Alan Moore’s concept. I’ve given the trade paperback of the comic to several people whose opinions I trust and they have told me that while they like the comic and appreciate it for what it is they wouldn’t have gone to see a movie that was strictly based on the comic book. However, those people have also said that they greatly enjoyed the movie version and I think that’s because the movie version does exactly what it’s supposed to do: provide us with two hours of thrills, adventure and excitement. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not the comic book story but it is a great piece of outsized, overblown, pulp action/adventure taken to the extreme and part of the reason I had so much fun watching the movie was that I could see the directors, actors and special effects guys just saying “the hell with it” and allowing themselves the room to have fun with the concept and just working with the material they were given and making sure they delivered. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a movie I recommend to friends and family often when they ask me what’s a good Saturday night movie.

First off, you’ve got Sean Connery who’s simply great. When he made this movie he was 75 years old and he’s the only 75-year-old actor in the world who can beat the snot out of actors half his age and look totally badass doing it. Other actors such as Charles Bronson and Roger Moore looked embarrassingly silly in their older years trying to do action scenes but somehow Connery can still pull it off and look convincing. There’s a bunch of great scenes he has with Shane West’s Tom Sawyer where the characters build a father/son type of relationship, especially in the scenes where Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer are chasing down Mr. Hyde across the rooftops of Paris and a later scene aboard Captain Nemo’s Nautilus where Quatermain teaches Tom how to shoot.

Peta Wilson is terrific as Mina Harker who shows a delightfully dark side to her character and I really liked how Naseeruddin Shah played Captain Nemo. As far as I know this the first time the character of Captain Nemo has been played racially correct in a movie and he supplies the team with their technological/transport support. And his fight scenes are among the best in the movie as he gives Captain Nemo a distinctive martial arts style. He plays Captain Nemo in a way unlike any other actor that’s ever played before and I think he’s probably the only actor in this movie who might have read the graphic novel the movie was based on. There’s a certain way he carries himself and the way he says his lines that make you sit up straighter and pay attention. Listen to how he says: “Behold Nautilus…The Sword of The Ocean” and tell me it doesn’t make you grin.

That’s not to say that the movie is without its flaws. I really didn’t like how the CGI guys went nuts on the effects. Especially when it came to Mr. Hyde and The Nautilus. In this movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are more like the Marvel Comics version of Dr. Bruce Banner and The Hulk than the Robert Louis Stevenson version and Captain Nemo’s Nautilus is huger, bigger and more technologically advanced than any modern day aircraft carrier. And the scenes in Venice make absolutely no sense whatsoever. There’s a whole lot of yelling and chasing around and fighting and shooting but when it’s all over you’re wondering: “What was that all about?”

But there are a lot of little nice touches. The obvious one is where Quatermain is receiving his assignment to assemble The League from M. And if you don’t appreciate the humor of Sean Connery once again getting orders from M then you really need to go back to Basic Film School. And pay attention to the scene between M and Quatermain because in the background are huge portraits of former Leagues.

There’s some incredible fight sequences and plot twists that I honestly didn’t see coming.  And even though I felt the final fight between Mr. Hyde and The Phantom’s main big bad was yet another reason for the CGI boys to go wild I liked the teamwork between Mr. Hyde and Captain Nemo as they struggled to find a way to defeat their foe as well as the ending scenes between Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer.

So should you see THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN? I see no reason why you shouldn’t. Don’t listen to your comic book reading friends who’ll tell you that it’s nothing like the comic book. Of course it isn’t like the comic book. It’s a movie and a pretty damn good entertaining one. Go ahead and watch it and have fun for what it is: it’s purely pulp action/adventure designed to get you interested in reading the source materials and characters it’s based on. No more and no less. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time watching THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN before you read the material it’s based on.

110 minutes
Rated PG-13



20th Century Fox/Cannon Films/Highlander Productions Limited/EMI Films

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Produced by Peter S. David-William N. Panzer-E.C. Monell

Written by Gregory Widen-Peter Bellwood-Larry Ferguson

Here’s a perfect example of what people mean when they use the expression ‘milking it for all it’s worth’.  When HIGHLANDER had its original theatrical run it was hailed as an above average action/adventure with a strikingly different visual style and an intriguing premise: what if a secret race of Immortals walked among humankind, waging a hidden war that has gone on throughout the ages, lasting for centuries?  A war that would decide the fate of Immortals and Humans alike?

If it had been left at just this one movie, the whole concept would have been stronger but there have been a series of really bad sequels, some so-so television spin-offs, including an animated one.  All of them violated just about everything that was set up so well in the original movie but even HIGHLANDER is not without some glaring plot holes that virtually guaranteed that any sort of sequel that followed it was doomed to failure.

Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is a warrior living in the Scottish Highlands of 1536.  During a battle between rival clans, Connor is viciously attacked by The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) a nightmarishly savage barbarian from Russia whose people entertained themselves by throwing children into pits with wild dogs and watching them fight.  The Kurgan delivers to Connor what should have been a deathblow but amazingly, Connor recovers from his mortal wound and the next day is walking around alive and well, his wound miraculously healed.


Quite naturally this means he must be in league with Satan so his own people cast him out and he wanders the land until finding love and peace with Heather (Beatie Edney).  This peace is disrupted by the appearance of the strutting, dashing swordsman Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery) who reveals Connor’s true nature to him.  Like Ramirez, Connor is an Immortal, fated to slay or be slain by other Immortals who must all kill each other until only one is left.  And this one will receive ‘The Prize’, some great gift that will change the fate of the world forever.  Ramirez trains Connor in swordsmanship and teaches him how to use his Immortal abilities but unfortunately, The Kurgan is also an Immortal and once again disrupts Connor’s life, killing Ramirez and brutalizing Heather.


In 1985 New York, Connor lives as an art/antique dealer named Russell Nash and comes to the attention of The NYPD due to the fact that there seems to be a lot of headless bodies showing up whenever he’s around and in particular to police forensic scientist/ancient weapons expert Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) Brenda finds metal shavings at a crime scene near a headless body that she’s convinced came from a samurai sword that was made two thousand years before the first recorded katana and she’s even more convinced that the mysterious Russell Nash knows about the sword.  Well, of course he does.  But he can’t very well tell her that he’s going around defending himself from attacks by his fellow Immortals by cutting of their heads, which is the only way to kill an Immortal with the sword he inherited from his mentor Ramirez.   But she soon finds out the truth as The Kurgan is also in New York and at last after centuries of Immortals slaying each other it has come down to just The Highlander and The Kurgan, who is holding Brenda as a hostage to gain an edge on Connor…. and There Can Be Only One…you just knew I was going to work that in somewhere, didn’t you?


When it comes to the look and visual style of the movie, it still holds up really well.  Russell Mulcahy had directed plenty of videos before HIGHLANDER and he made a horror film called “Razorback” which is about a giant wild razorback pig terrorizing the Australian outback.  Trust me; the movie is a lot better than it sounds.  Mulcahy brought the visual techniques he used in his videos to HIGHLANDER and they’ve been copied so often since then that we see them and yawn but back in 1986 this was really exciting stuff.  Even today many of the shots are breathtaking, such as the opening shot of a crowd in Madison Square Garden that dives and swoops like an eagle trapped inside the building until the camera zooms in on Lambert.  The scenes set in 16th Century Scotland are astonishingly beautiful as well and provide a nice contrast to the concrete cliffs of 20th Century New York.  The fight scenes are beautiful, brutal and bloody as all good movie fight scenes should be.

But it’s after the movie is over and you sit back and think about it you realize that HIGHLANDER is a lot like a politician’s campaign speeches: There’s a lot of talking but not a damn thing has been said.  I’m kinda disappointed that we’re presented with a race of Immortals who instead of working together toward a common goal spend their time running around hacking off each other’s heads.  We’re given tantalizing glimpses into what surely must be a fascinating culture, but that’s all we’re given.  It’s never explained why The Immortals have to kill each other off or how they found out that the only way to kill an Immortal is to cut his head off (seems like a secret I’d keep to my own damn self) or why they never fight on holy ground.  And if the whole point is for Immortals to kill themselves to get ‘The Prize’ then why does Ramirez train Connor instead of taking his head?  Do Immortals age naturally until they reach a certain age?  It would explain why Connor, The Kurgan, Ramirez and the couple of other Immortals we see in the movie are all obviously different ages but this is never explored.  How did The Immortals learn about ‘The Prize’?  Who told them?

I know…I know…there were sequels that attempted to explain some of these questions but trust me on this: you don’t want to see them, especially “Highlander II: The Quickening” which is undoubtedly the worst movie Sean Connery ever made.   Supposedly the only reason he was in it was because he and Christopher Lambert got along so well and Lambert wouldn’t do the movie without him.  The bottom line is this: there’s a tantalizing amount of good stuff that just isn’t used here and as a result the movie is wildly entertaining but strangely unsatisfying to me.  I wanted to know more about these Immortals and I didn’t get it.  And the ending of the movie where we finally find out what ‘The Prize’ is has to be one of the biggest let downs I’ve seen in a movie.  I sat through the whole thing waiting to see what this ‘Prize’ is gonna be, figuring it’s gonna be something really nifty and when it was finally revealed I screamed; “That’s IT?!”


However, HIGHLANDER has three big things going for it: Sean Connery, who steals every scene he’s in as Ramirez who even though he has a Spanish name is actually a two thousand-year-old Egyptian. Christopher Lambert who I really like as an actor.  He can be badass, cool, charming and goofy all in the same scene and make it believable.  He’s got a strong scene where he’s comforting his dying wife Heather who has grown old while he has stayed young and strong and it’s a very touching moment where Lambert effectively captures the pain of what being an Immortal must be like.  Clancy Brown is terrific as The Kurgan and plays him as an unstoppable killing machine with a grisly and totally inappropriate sense of black humor.  He’s one of the best movie bad guys ever.

And I can’t end this review without mentioning the outstanding music score that features songs by Queen. Everybody knows ‘Princes Of The Universe’ but ‘One Year Of Love’ and ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ are equally memorable and near the end of the movie there’s a brief bit of Queen doing ‘New York, New York’

So should you see HIGHLANDER?  Sure.  It’s perfectly entertaining high adventure that’s got a fun story, interesting characters, a great music score, some good fight scenes and despite what I think are plot holes big enough to fall into, you can ignore ‘em and just have a good time.  It’s not a demanding movie by any stretch but it is what it is and that’s more than enough.  Enjoy with my blessings.

Rated R

116 minutes