The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a 2003 superhero film adaptation loosely based on characters from the comic book limited series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, who is also famous for Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. It was released on July 11, 2003, in the United States, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It was directed by Stephen Norrington and starred Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, and Richard Roxburgh.
It is an action and fantasy film set in the late 19th century, featuring an assortment of fictional literary characters appropriate to the period, who act as Victorian Era superheroes. It draws on the works of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Ian Fleming, Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Gaston Leroux, and Mark Twain, albeit all adapted for the film. The plot and general atmosphere are very far from those of the original comic book.
The film was a box-office financial success, with worldwide revenue of $179,265,204, rental revenue of $48,640,000, and DVD sales as of 2003 at $36,400,000. Though not popular with critics, the movie has a cult following, particularly within the Victorian steampunk community. It was intended to spawn a film franchise based on further titles in the original comic book series, but there was little enthusiasm for a sequel due to various reasons.
In 1899, men dressed as German soldiers attack the Bank of England and steal Leonardo da Vinci’s layouts of Venice’s foundations. Shortly after, led by their leader the “Fantom”, the men dressed as British officers kidnap German scientists and destroy a factory, causing tension between England and Germany which could lead to war, with both attacks marked by highly advanced weaponry (for the time) such as tanks and machine guns. Sanderson Reed of the British Empire ventures to Kenya, visiting a gentlemen’s club to recruit world-renowned hunter and adventurer Allan Quatermain. Quatermain has no interest in helping, having retired and mourns the loss of his son after his last adventure. Assassins arrive to kill Quatermain but he defeats them, only for a bomb to destroy the club, forcing Quatermain to agree to work with Reed.
In London, Quatermain meets “M”, Reed’s employer, who explains the Fantom plans to destroy Venice to prevent a meeting between the leaders of the world, his ultimate goal being to start a world war and arms race to profit from sale of his weapons. To combat the Fantom, a team of unique individuals known as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is being formed – consisting of Quatermain himself, Captain Nemo, chemist Mina Harker, and invisible thief Rodney Skinner. M sends the group to recruit their fifth member, immortal Dorian Gray, who remains youthful while a currently missing portrait of himself ages. Dorian once was infatuated with Mina, but refuses to join the team. The Fantom and his assassins attack, but thanks to the presence of U.S. Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer, who snuck in, the assassins are defeated although the Fantom escapes. Mina is revealed to be a vampire when a surviving assassin tries to take her hostage. Dorian and Sawyer join the team and set off to recruit their final member, Mr. Hyde, in Captain Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus.
After capturing Hyde in Paris, Quatermain negotiates with him into joining the team by offering amnesty for his past crimes. Hyde agrees, turning into his harmless self, Dr. Jekyll. On the way to Venice, Quatermain bonds with Sawyer and teaches him to be a better marksman. It eventually becomes clear there is a traitor on board when a camera’s flash powder is found in the ship’s wheelhouse and one of Dr. Jekyll’s transformation formulas goes missing. Skinner is quickly accused of being the saboteur, but he disappears.
Arriving in Venice, the league are shocked when bombs planted beneath the city begin to destroy building in a domino effect but Nemo concludes they can stop the chain reaction by destroying a building out of sequence using one of the Nautilus’ missiles. Quatermain, Sawyer, Mina and Dorian take Nemo’s automobile to outrun the chain reaction with Dorian and Mina leaping out to fight the Fantom’s men. Quatermain spots the Fantom and confronts him, revealing him to be none other than M. Sawyer manages to signal for the missile to be launched and Venice is saved. Dorian returns to the ship and kills Nemo’s first mate Ishmael, revealing he is the traitor. The league learns of M and Dorian’s treachery, who escape in an exploration pod. A phonograph record made by M is found, M explaining his true goal was to gather physical elements of the team (Skinner’s invisible skin, Jekyll’s Hyde formula, Mina’s blood, and Nemo’s technology, while he only needed Quatermain to capture Hyde) to make superhuman formulas to sell to the highest paying countries, with Dorian revealing bombs are hidden on the ship. The bombs detonate, damaging the ship, but Hyde drains the flooding water from the Nautilus’ engine rooms. Skinner, who stowed away on Dorian’s pod, messages the group to follow his lead.
The Nautilus travels to the Arctic where the league reunites with Skinner. Skinner reveals M runs a factory where the kidnapped scientists are forced to make the superhuman formulas and weaponized versions of the Nautilus are being constructed. The league break into the factory and split up to stop M – Nemo and Hyde free the scientists and their families, Skinner sets bombs to destroy the factory, Mina goes to kill Dorian, and Quatermain and Sawyer go after M, who is revealed to be Professor James Moriarty, who was believed to have died in his battle with Sherlock Holmes. Mina confronts Dorian and kills him by exposing his portrait to him. Quatermain fights Moriarty who points out Sawyer has been taken captive by an invisible Reed. Quatermain shoots Reed, but is then stabbed by Moriarty who escapes out of a window with the collection of formulas. Sawyer manages to use Quatermain’s teachings to shoot Moriarty dead from afar, the formulas sinking into the icy waters below. Quatermain dies but tells Sawyer to enjoy the new century.
Quatermain is buried in Kenya beside his son, but the other league members recall how he said that a witch doctor would never let him die as long as he was in Africa. After Sawyer, Mina, Nemo, Skinner and Dr. Jekyll depart, the witch doctor appears and uses a ritual to summon a bolt of lightning which strikes Quatermain’s grave, implying the hunter is to be resurrected as promised.
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