Based on V’s pirated speeches to the nation, and on the climactic final scene, one infers that it is essentially symbolic, not structural; that liberation consists mainly of freedom of speech, freedom to protest—probably, vaguely, a democratic process. In short, liberalism.
And this seems unmistakably of its time. The film’s politics are those of the period immediately post-9/11, an explicit indictment of liberal willingness to sacrifice civil liberties for a sense of security. In the final scene, when Inspector Finch asks Evey Hammond why she wants to destroy Parliament, she responds, “This country needs more than a building; it needs hope.” Funny choice of words, as “Hope” is what we got in 2008, and look where we are now.
Is It Really THAT Bad?
This… This is where it all began.
Sean Connery wanted to finally make a great film again after constantly passing on big franchise opportunities. Alan Moore was actually somewhat enthusiastic about seeing an adaptation of his comic. The dominoes were in place and set to fall on a major success as one of the most ambitious crossovers ever written made its way to scree
But unfortunately, there were far too many problems. Connery refused to play an addict and so they changed Quatermain into a straight hero and the team leader. Tom Sawyer was added in because the studio thought people wouldn’t care about the movie if there wasn’t an American in it. Connery butted heads with the director on set. A legal issue involving an unproduced script led Alan Moore to become bitter when things were settled out of court, as he didn’t get to defend himself. It seemed like absolutely nothing could go right with this film, and then it was released.
The movie was savaged by critics, bombed domestically, and devastated several careers. Connery was left miserable in regards to filmmaking thanks to this, and so retired from acting save for some voice work. The director Stephen Norrington had such a bad experience that he vowed to never make another film. Peta Wilson and Stuart Townsend both had their careers torched by this, and Shane West ended up having to stick to TV roles after this. Most tragic of all, however, is how Alan Moore came to utterly despise this film, leading to him demand his name be left off of all future adaptations of his work and beginning a long trend of him hating literally every Hollywood movie based on his creations, regardless of quality.
This film is an utter nuclear disaster of cinema based on how it ruined so many careers and crushed the hopes of its creators, so clearly the critics must be right on the money and this league of gentlemen is not so extraordinary… right? With 19 years and several other Alan Moore adaptations behind us, I’ve decided to look back and see if this notorious film is really that bad after all. Alan Moore definitely thinks so.
I think what really carries this movie is the performances. Nearly every actor is giving it their all here, though there are some standouts. Jason Flemyng as both Jekyll and Hyde, Naseeruddin Shah as Nemo, and and Tony Curran as this film’s take on the Invisible Man are the standouts here. The latter in particular is very interesting; due to Universal having the film rights for the Invisible Man, they had to make up a new version… which is for the best, since in the comics the Invisible Man on the team is a rapist, a traitor, and an utter bastard. Rodney Skinner, the version here, is much more of a playful rogue and a rascal, and it’s easy to see why he became a fan favorite. It’s definitely one of the few points of improvement over the comic.
Speaking of which, the decision to turn Mina into a vampire might seem corny to some, but I think it rules. Mina in the comics was very much the badass normal and the leader of the team, but that was about it for her aside from her gross romance arc with Quatermain. Here, she gets to be a badass, and has quite a few cool fight scenes under her belt by the film’s end. It’s a bit of creative liberty with not only the source material but the comic as well, but it’s not like Moore didn’t take creative liberties for the sake of the story he was telling (for better and for worse).
My favorite addition by far is Stuart Townsend’s Dorian Gray. Even as a kid, who knew nothing about Dorian Gray and was very much not aware of his own sexuality, I thought Dorian was hot. He also is functionally immortal and unstoppable, which is awesome as well, making him something of a very sexy Wolverine. Parts of his motivation are very stupid (more on that later), but I think he’s a pretty fun token evil teammate. He’s definitely preferable to the Invisible Man of the comics, that’s for sure.
Aside from that, there’s a lot of fun action scenes, especially towards the end of the movie where they just go whole hog with everything. We have a Hyde versus Diet Hyde fight, we have Mina fighting Dorian, we just have a lot of crazy stuff. It’s just a lot of dumb fun.
Much like the comics it’s adapted from, this movie does suffer from some problems that could definitely hinder how enjoyable one might find it.
Probably the bigger ones are the fact characters spend less time showing and more time telling, as they stand about in their fancy costumes and announce obvious things. It doesn’t help either that aside from that, the plot is a lot more convoluted than ever before and riddled with confusing twists and plot holes. For instance, the big reveal that the Fantom is actually M, who is actually Professor Moriarty… what, exactly, does this add to the story? Nothing is the answer. Nothing is added by Moriarty being the bad guy except, well, he was the bad guy in the comics! Gotta keep him in!
It’s even weirder when it comes to Dorian. His whole deal is that Moriarty has stolen his portrait, and if Dorian ever looks at his portrait he will die. So it would make far more sense for him to not want to help Moriarty since the guy is doing him a solid by keeping that damn portrait far away, right? Nope, he’s trying to get it back because… who knows.
I think the bigger issue here is that Quatermain supplants Mina as the main hero. In the comics, Quatermain starts out as a useless, washed up opium addict who slowly undergoes character development to become the badass he should be (and then he is unceremoniously killed by lightning shot out of Harry Potter’s penis). In the movie, he’s badass from the word go, and we all know it’s because it’s Sean Connery playing him. There’s no way you’re going to pay the bill for Connery to be in your film and then not have him be front and center. But this isnot even Connery at his best, as it’s pretty clear that he’s kind of phoning things in (though not nearly as badly as he did with Diamonds Are Forever). Worst of all, though,is that this comes at the expense of Mina becoming marginalized, and this is after you give her sick vampire powers! Mina has been made exponentially cooler and you still sideline her for Sean Connery and his bland white American foster son! What the hell!
And yes, Sawyer is bland and boring. They don’t really do much interesting with the fact he’s Tom Sawyer. In fact, outside a deleted scene, it’s not even mentioned and you’d have to really guess who he’s supposed to be. This, I think, is the reason this doesn’t quite work as a film quite as well as a comic, by the way; film rights and literary rights are two entirely different things. The entire conceit of the franchise is that you’re watching Alan Moore flex his literary knowledge and see how many references can be crammed into a single comic panel, something that just can’t work in a fast-paced action movie. Sure, there’s some references here and there, but it’s not nearly as dense as the comics. You’re not getting cameos from Thomas the Tank Engine or Pollyanna here, that’s for sure, and it’s a shame because that’s the fun of League.
Oh, and to top it all off, the CGI is kinda ass. I swear this is not a screencap from a Resident Evil game, this is just how this dude looks in the movie.
Is It Really THAT Bad?
Now let me be clear, this isn’t a good movie. It has a hell of a lot of flaws, flaws that keep it from reaching its full potential and keep it from being as good as the comic it’s adapting. But I always recall how I saw someone say they saw this film as part of a loose trilogy with Van Helsing and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the thematic tie of the films being action-packed CGI spectacles of the early 2000s, and I feel a bit more lenient. This is definitely the weakest of the three films, but I don’t know, I still think there’s merit in it even if it never quite reaches the highs of its comic counterpart.
I’d say this is sort of the Venom of its time, a fun, stupid action movie with tons of actors giving it their all for an almost non-existent plot. I’d say it’s just about where it belongs on IMDB, though I’d round it up to a 6. It’s the perfect thing to just put on if you want some mindless fun or just a bit of background noise while you do something else, and there’s plenty of place in the world for films like that. It’s definitely not so bad that I feel like it should have tanked a half dozen careers and I definitely don’t think it’s so bad that it should have soured Moore’s opinion on Hollywood (and Sean Connery, if his unflattering depictions of Connery’s Bond in later volumes are anything to go by).
He worst thing that can be said about it is that it does very little with the great concept of the comic it’s adapting… But hey, no matter how bad this is, it’s still infinitely better than whatever the hell was going on in Centuries!
"Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot…But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them…but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it…ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love…And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man…A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget."
- Evey Hammond, from Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta"
"The strongest storms start with a single raindrop...“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
- Thomas Jefferson
(Painting by Dani Owergoor)