Is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) the Worst Movie Ever Made?

Short answer: yes. The long answer: also yes, but in quite a specialised way.

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It’s fair to say there is at least eight terrible films to every truly good one; every touching, clever and innovative piece is trailed by a horde of uninteresting, generic, retarded time-sinks, wasting two hours of everyone’s time in a lazy attempt to recycle and exploit the ideas laid down by people with more talent. Produced by empty, ugly husks of Hollywood – all in a desperate effort to top up their depository of cocaine and anti-depressants, by trying to extract the maximum amount of money from movie-goers, while putting as little time, effort and thought into the process.

Perhaps we can take some comfort in imagining them wailing in dark apartments, curling into a fetal position and choking on their broken dreams and sobbing hysterically into $100 bills. Perhaps they weren’t always terrible people. Perhaps they came out of film school full of piss and vinegar, ready to do Tenacious D II: Long Hard Road Out of Kickapoo, and instead get worn down taking orders from the executive producers, executive technicians, and executive executives – looked down at by executive cameramen, resenting executive screenwriters, who can’t even hold a pen the right way around, and relentlessly bullying the executive parakeet-trainer – until there is nothing left but a bitter, sort-of-cinematic equivalent of a yes-man – a middle-manager sick to their stomach of films, the filming industry and humanity in general. So maybe they decide to act out a petty revenge against the entire industry by scripting dull, shitty characters spouting clumsy exposition in triple-A movies, and by choreographing lame, underwhelming action sequences. Anyway, if we want to find the point again, that’s exactly the people who made The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. 

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There are many ways a film can be good, and there’s no point trying to group them under one banner of ‘good’. A horror movie is good if it scares the crap out of you, a comedy is good if it makes you laugh and feel good and dramas are good when they can make you relate to the feelings of the character. Similarly, even movies that are a bit crap can be enjoyable for a variety of reasons, as long as there is something enjoyable about it. Similarly, shitty movies are shit because they fail to set out what they do. Even really, really bad movies can be seriously fun to watch, like Grave Robbers from Outer Space, The Room or Troll 2.

So, there can be an almost infinite variety of bad that works on multiple levels. Similarly, some aspects may work well, but the whole can be ruined by weaknesses in other parts. For example, everything Michael Bay has ever touched, with brilliant visuals and special effects, but with really weak scripting, characters and poor storylines.

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I could not say tLoEG is the worst film in the world, by any platonic, technical standard, like meta-score or some mathematical standard of tosh. There are plenty of bad films out there, that only get shown on late night television on the arse-end of the channel spectrum, with non-existent acting, terrible scripting and all-around incompetence, such as the rotten tomatoes paragon Jaws 4: The Revenge, or Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. There’s hundreds out there, and mostly they are very enjoyable. There is something endearing about the pathetic but admirable attempts at film-making present there, and even YouTube amateur B-movies can be really fun, especially if there is a possibility of a nice, big drink in front of you.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hits the exact zenith on the crap continuum, where it’s too bad to provide any entertainment or viewing pleasure, while lacking the spirit, effort and anything that even remotely resembles fun, that the B-class movies possess. It is not only underwhelming, shallow, dull, incoherent, poorly cast, scripted, directed, produced and acted, but also really depressing to watch.

This is one of those movies that is sometimes optimistically filed under “imaginative scifi/fantasy”, which I suppose is half true. This one is kind of similar to other flops like Van Helsing and Hansel & Gretel: Witch hunters, as they all take one or more references from actually good sources, like characters from classic literature, and mash them together until they mate, producing pseudo-Victorian, action-packed “edgy” re-imaginations, in massive ironic quotations. This is rather like the Avengers, with different production, story, characters, time, setting and generally a lot more shit.

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Now, for the sake of clarity, I have never read the original graphic novels by Alan Moore, who has also done Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell, so I’m not going to compare the film to the comics, and neither am I going to claim that the idea behind this couldn’t work in the hands of someone with a fully functional brain. A lot of people say the film failed ultimately because it totally failed to respect the source material, and I’m not going to argue againts that. Since they fucked everything else up, I doubt they did any credit to the graphic novels either.

This pointless and lifeless tale follows the assembly and antics of a team of fictional assholes to bring down a criminal megalomaniac, who has stolen Leonardo DaVinci’s designs, containing designs for machine guns, submarines, tanks and all the other inventions of the great humanist genius. This cast of assholes assembled by “M” (har har) includes…I can’t believe half this shit…Allan Quartermain from King Solomon’s Mines (the sharpshooter), Mina Harker (the obligatory female) from Dracula, Captain Nemo (WHAT? Why?!) from Jules Verne’s novels, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (OK, he’s immortal, could come in handy), a crappy version of the Invisible Man (because they failed to get the rights) called Rodney Skinner, and they head out to hunt down Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, who has nothing better to do than run around on decent peoples rooftops, probably ruining everyone’s shingles. And here’s something else that is absolutely retarded: why does Dr. Jekyll need to carry around a big bloody crate of serum? Doesn’t he turn into Mr. Hyde involuntarily? Does he actually decide to have a night-cap of Murderous Juggernaut Juice because he’s feeling like an asshole today? Or is this just another discontinuity problem caused by the needs of the nonsensical plot?

And Tom Sawyer? Tom Fucking Sawyer? Are we really that desperate for references? I’m not sure what his special ability was supposed to be, apart from alienating viewers, of course.

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The terrible, terrible, Horrible introduction sequences are, I think, the most awkward in the film, and the ones that have been permanently corroded into my brain in excruciating detail. The characters walking into the set, giving each other disinterested looks and starting to vomit exposition in grim determination to get their background, character and motivations out as quickly as possible, and the entire sequence is like pulling teeth out, for actors and audience alike. Their mouths may impudently spew back-story, but their eyes say “Please, kill me..” The most poorly paced and written sequence in the entire film takes place right here, as an anonymous ruffian appears the fuck out of nowhere, following a rather dull action sequence, to grab our obligatory female, and then has all the blood extracted from him as she turns around to spew her expositionary lines. How fucking lazy can the scripting team get? I think there wasn’t a person in the world who didn’t go into involuntary convulsions here, as the sensory data from the eyes and ears cause the embarrassment center of the brain to light up like a Christmas tree, and the electric impulses cause your muscles to spasm all over your body, effectively cringing from horror at the script and acting.

The terrible doesn’t end there though. The most balls-out failed character of the film is the lead himself, Alan Quartermaine. Sean Connery, by no means a stranger to picking bad roles (see The Avengers 1996 or Entrapment), demanded a respectable portion of the film’s budget to do the role, but delivers a dull, tired performance, probably because his character is plain crap. Sean Connery apparently thought the same, playing it safe and playing Quartermaine the same way as the classic James Bond, apart from being too old to womanize any birds. The “angle” or dilemma of his character is supposed to be the death of his son, but since we never see or learn anything about him, it is really difficult to give a fuck. In the end, there is no reason to cheer Sean Connery on, apart from that it’s Sean Connery. And when we get to the bits where we are supposed to see the characters bonding it really starts to get mortifying.

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And are these scenes forced. There are sexual assaults that are less forced than this shit. These fucking scenes make porn look subtle. “Here’s your big sausage pizza. Just let me pull my dick out” can’t even compare. “Hey! I just met you. And this is crazy. I’m from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So let me join, maybe.”

Another shining favorite scene of mine is Sean Connery and Tom Sawyer developing character relationships, as Connery shows him how to shoot properly, and then walks away like a twat after spewing exposition of about his dead son. A set-up so clumsy it couldn’t walk through a doorway without getting stuck.

Overall, this film is a truly miserable experience, offering a poor story, terrible acting, desperate referencing, horrendous scripting and embarrassment-inducing ham. It is an awkward little relic from the early 2000s, before anyone had any right to expect a comic book tie-in film to be any good. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of a scenario where I could recommend this to someone, and I cannot think of any optimal demographic, apart from people who really enjoyed the premise of The Avengers, but were turned away by the film being too good. This is a depressing case of a cynical attempt to exploit poorly understood source material for quick profit, and, ironically, seems quite relevant to the current era of superhero-action blockbusters, if only as a warning example.

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5 responses to “Is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) the Worst Movie Ever Made?

  1. Pingback: Is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) the Worst Movie Ever Made? | Tinseltown Times·

  2. I think you need to rewatch this movie, your “facts” are wrong. M stole the plans of Venice, which he used to place explosives in key points to destroy the city. He has already been selling other tanks, bombs, etc to rival nations, but it is after he uses Dorian Gray to steal medical samples and Nemo’s tech that he becomes a real threat to world safety. You are clearly not a fan of steampunk, which is fine, but does not make it a horrible film, just a genre you don’t get. You don’t seem to know enough about the literature being referenced to appreciate this or other movies like it.

  3. Thanks for correcting the mistakes. I’m generally lazy clarifying plot-points, and it might well have missed something important. It’s perfectly possible I missed some key point in the plot while getting distracted with the thoughts of Ben&Jerry’s Ice-cream and bear-jousting (I can’t pretend I have a clean record on this front), or the other possibility is that the plot was just a big, unstructured mess.

    I honestly am not bothered by steampunk either way, nor do I see why steampunk would be the sticking point here, since I really liked Hellboy and The Brothers Grimm, which also were full of steampunk and alternate-history elements, and had the additional benefit of being actually good. The implication that I find more concerning is the presupposition that steampunk elements would alone be enough to salvage this horrendous load of walrus-discharge, because that was what I felt to be what the film-makers were thinking when they made this lazy, soulless cash-in. I didn’t find this film to be as pleasurable as a barbed-wire-bowel-movement because it had a lot of twats running around in pseudo-historical outfits and shooting steam-powered Warhammer 40K blasters, but because it was horribly scripted, clunky, awkwardly paced and badly acted.

    I’m nerdy enough to recognize that I watch more films and read a lot more than the average consumer, and I’ve read most of the literature they are trying to exploit here. I’m more than passingly familiar with all the important referenced characters, and it does nothing to help the sorry display here. The reason these characters are brutally mashed into the same story is, I assume, to fish for name recognition, and having or not having the context of the back-ground literature doesn’t change the fact that the way the film handles these characters is really clumsy and awkward. The way they are put onto screen and characterized though spouted exposition is clunky, to say nothing of the way they are made to interact, which is enough to make you wish you were watching old reruns of The Nanny.

    I said already at some point that the film is lazy and unimaginative. All the interesting ideas seem to be watered down recycling of other, more creative and capable people’s work, which they probably hoped would be enough to drive the film so they wouldn’t have to be arsed working on it. Underneath some genre-elements, there is nothing but tired old tropes and cliche story-elements, which, at least for me, add up to a lot of tired old prostatic fluid.

  4. Who in their right mind gave the go ahead to blow millions on a script with the lines “And now masked henchmen enter the library and Captain Nemo does judo chops on the villians.” An Osama Bin Laden lookalike helps save the world by spinning around with his kung fu moves? Obscure 19th century literary characters without current mass appeal team up for a “steampunk” movie? Just who was supposed to be the audience for this drivel?

  5. I’d have to disagree with what you’ve said.

    Allan Quartermain was a good addition. In every movie there’s got to be a “normal” man, someone the audience can relate to. Allan was probably the most 3d of the characters, and the easiest to relate to.
    Captain Nemo: I agree that the whole “he’s Indian now!” thing is strange, but I liked it. It made sense that he could find a crew more easily in a country like India (assuming that’s where he comes from) than Britain. Also, the Nautilus was amazing.
    Skinner: If you go to buy chocolate ice cream but they’re out and you have to buy vanilla instead, do you not eat the ice cream? No, you eat it and you like it. If you want to use the Invisible Man but can’t use his name, do you not use him? No.
    Mina Harker: You do know that she was turned into a vampire in the book, right? It makes sense that she could use it for good. She is a strong female character, not “the obligatory woman.”
    Dorian Gray: Don’t insult this cute little immortal traitor. Crush aside, his treachery wasn’t predictable or underwhelming. I gasped aloud.
    Jekyll/Hyde: I get it that he’s basically the Hulk, but come on, he was cool. And he does not involuntarily turn into Hyde, but can become Jekyll again at will.
    Tom Sawyer: I don’t understand your issues with him. He was an excellent way to bring Allan’s son into the story and provide character development for every character in this.

    Sorry for the dumbness of my analogy on Skinner. No offense to you.

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