The Disney+ Sci-Fi Thriller Action Epic That Ended An Iconic Actor’s Career

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

If you’ve got a Disney+ subscription and a subscription to Hulu to access Disney+’s beta Hulu section—you’re in luck. One of Sean Connery’s last films, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is available for viewing. The 2003 film uniquely blends action, adventure, and fantasy, uniting several iconic characters from classic literature. If only for its novel premise and excellent cast, the film stands out. 

Directed by Stephen Norrington and written by James Dale Robinson, the movie is set in an alternate Victorian Era, in which a mysterious figure referred to only as The Fantom spreads chaos through the globe via advanced weaponry. The British counter this menacing threat by recruiting an adventurer named Allan Quatermain—the iconic Sean Connery—to lead a team of unique individuals. 

Each recruit helps form The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, an A-Team from the Great Books, featuring the likes of Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll, Tom Sawyer, and more.

The crew embarks on a mission to stop The Fantom from selling advanced weaponry to competing nations and commencing a global conflict; the villain memorably demonstrates the power of said weapons by sinking a Venitian building as a show of force. The League’s quest leads them across the globe, from the back alleys of Victorian London to the canals of Venice.

 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Excitingly, the plot weaves through a steampunk universe filled with deeper conspiracies, cleverly integrating each character’s unique abilities and backgrounds.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features a memorable climax in a snowy Mongolian fortress, where the League confronts their true nemesis—no spoilers here—and their army. The intense battle involves some impressive action sequences.

Sean Connery
Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Comic book fans will know the film adapts a comic book series of the same name, a much-respected creation of legendary graphic novelist and all-around bard Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill. The movie’s production was fraught with challenges, including reported tensions between director Norrington and lead actor Connery. 

These conflicts contributed to a troubled shooting schedule. Flooding in Prague, where much of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was shot, also led to setbacks.

 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Still, challenges or not, the film managed to capture the essence of the comic series—although with some notable deviations. For example, the inclusion of Tom Sawyer was made to appeal to the American audience.

Many appreciated the film’s liberal use of steampunk aesthetics, which memorably blended Victorian-era designs with futuristic technology. A unique visual sensibility distinguished it from other comic book adaptations of the time—and indeed, the typical Marvel fare today. 

 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Scene from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

However, the film debuted to decidedly mixed critical reviews. Experts were quick to pan The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s screenplay and direction, labeling them as major weaknesses. Also, the narrative, generally, came under attack; reviewers deemed it cluttered and lacking in coherence, failing to orchestrate its ensemble of complex literary characters into a cohesive story.

Most glaringly, perhaps, the film’s deviation from the original series by Moore and O’Neill was a significant point of contention. Fans of the comic series derided the liberties taken with the characters and the story, considering these amendments dilutions, even betrayals, of the source material. 

 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Scene from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

However, many enjoyed the The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s special effects and high-octane action sequences, particularly its steampunk visuals. Others dismissed the CGI, which was not as advanced in the early 2000s as it is today, admittedly. 

When it came to box office returns, the film performed modestly. While it was produced on a substantial budget, reportedly over $100 million, it failed to snag the blockbuster status. The movie grossed around $179 million worldwide, meaning it was not a total failure but ultimately underwhelmed, given its high production costs and similarly high expectations. 

 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Scene from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Understandably, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s performance was likely impacted by its mixed reception, both critically and due to word of mouth, which probably discouraged the potentially more extensive audience. Also, other high-profile releases released during the same period constituted stiff competition. 

Ultimately, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen represents an intriguing blend—fusing literature and cinema into an ambitious project involving an ensemble of memorable characters. 

Sure, logistical and personal challenges marred its production, critics soured its reception, and it may not have been loyal to its comic book origins. But the film nonetheless enjoys a special status for its unique steampunk aesthetic and visual flair.