The strength of Sean Connery is his ability to lift a movie out of mediocrity with his sheer will. Without Sir Sean, The Untouchables would have been a drier version of Waterworld. Without Sir Sean, The Rock would have been Con Air. Without Sir Sean, James Bond would have been Roger Moore. In a tour de force, the man decided to carry an ensemble cast whose combined age is roughly equal to his. The result was the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:
Mina Harker: (Bram Stoker's Dracula) The wife of vampire hunter Jonathan Harker, bitten by Dracula himself, Mina has all of the powers of a vampire except the evilness.
Dorian Gray: (Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray) In addition to the legendary dry wit he gained from his creator, Dorian is indestructible, since his picture not only ages but takes bullet wounds for him.
Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde: (H.G. Wells) Dr. Jekyll can take a potion and become the ultrapowerful Mr. Hyde via a series of quick morphs and flash powder explosions.
Tom Sawyer: (Rush's Moving Pictures album) Tom managed to rise from semi-literate petty criminal to US Marshall, and is now operating well out of jurisdiction in Europe. A skilled marksman, he also is adept at tricking people into whitewashing fences.
Captain Nemo: (Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) An Eastern potentate turned pirate, Nemo has achieved the rare dual mastery of engineering and swordfighting.
The Invisible Man: (H.G. Wells) Cockney thief and comic relief Rodney Skinner lifted the formula off the more unfortunate scientist in the eponymous novel. Luckily avoiding the psychosis suffered by the original Invisible Man or by Kevin Bacon, this Invisible Man offers unrivaled stealth to the League.
Allan Quatermain: (H. Rider Haggard) Clearly needing no introduction, Sir Sean plays the most famous hunter/explorer Englishman in all of literary history. There is not a schoolboy on this earth who has not thrilled to the adventures of this sharpshooter, or at least seen Jumanji.
Though studio executives take some heat for being cold, emotionless, money-counting machines, they did make a smart calculation on the League. Since most of the characters hail from English, Scots, and Irish works (and even one French), they felt it needed to be Americanized a little so that people in Ohio would care about the film. It worked for The Great Escape. This explains the introduction of Tom Sawyer and the casting of Naseerudin Shah as Captain Nemo. Naseerudin Shah is of course the Bollywood equivalent of Kids in the Hall actor Kevin McDonald. Granted, Kevin is Canadian, but it's close enough.
The movie opens with a series of heists and abductions in turn of the century Europe by an army of heavily armored tanks and troops, led by the masked Fantom. He is stealing plans and kidnapping scientists as per Chapter 3 in the Supervillian Handbook. In response, a mysterious Englishman begins rounding up literary characters for the League. He is known only as M because apparently the Bond franchise couldn't copyright a single letter, and is played by a Richard Roxburgh who was Dracula in Van Helsing and the Duke in Moulin Rouge. Not that he's evil.
A reluctant Sir Sean is brought back to England from his Kenyan estate after a small detachment of the Fantom's troops attempts to assassinate him. Sir Sean is still not particularly interested in returning to the mother country, but after his home is more or less totaled as a result of the attack he has no place else to go. This clever plot device allows Sir Sean to be brought into the League and at the same time be a bit of a dick towards the team and England in general.
M briefs the team on the Fantom's next scheme: disrupt the world summit meeting in Venice by triggering an underground explosion. The League must get there on Nemo's Nautilus, a gargantuan submarine about half the size of London. The Nautilus is later revealed to be solar powered - an unusual feature on a submarine.
The League sets off for Venice from London. Despite the remarkable speeds that the enormous solar-powered sub is capable of, it still takes a couple days to get there. At this point any of your typical coward directors would make a jump cut to Venice and get back into the action, but not Stephen Norrington. The director of Blade knows that there is no such thing as downtime in a movie, so he uses the trip to establish the characters. And what better way to establish characters than through amateur psychology? Nemo provides some unwanted analysis on Sir Sean, comparing him to an old lion for some reason. Sir Sean offers to give Tom lessons in marksmanship and the inferiority of America, and in return Tom psychoanalyzes Sir Sean some more. Mina analyzes Dorian. Nemo analyzes Dr. Jekyll, and vice versa. Then Mr. Hyde starts talking to Dr. Jekyll and they analyze themselves. Finally the disappearance of one of Dr. Jekyll's vials turns suspicion on the Invisible Man and the movie kicks back into high gear. Dr. Jekyll accuses the Invisible Man, who promptly disappears until the third act.
At long last the team arrives in Venice, just in time for the Fantom's explosives to detonate beneath one building. Venice begins to topple, as each tipped-over building pushes over the next in a ring of destruction emanating from the initial blast. This tragedy could have been avoided had the builders of Venice not made the foundations very weak while making the buildings themselves infinitely strong. Luckily, the Nautilus fires a missile at a key building in the path of destruction and they manage to end the dominos without too many thousands of casualties.
It is at this point that they learn the needlessly elaborate and poorly explained attack on Venice was nothing more than a red herring. Sir Sean makes the discovery while locked in combat with the Fantom, when the mask falls off to reveal that he is really M. Back at the ship, the rest of the team is tipped off when Dorian kills a crewmember and hijacks the ship. He and M make off in the Nautilus' escape pod, and the remaining members of the League file back into the ship to determine the reason for the betrayal.
A phonograph is left behind to provide necessary exposition and character motivation. The League is nothing more than a myth. It never existed, not even the earlier incarnations such as the characters of Jane Austen novels that defeated a ruthless opium syndicate with witty social commentary. M concocted the League to lure them together and steal the essence of their powers - blood from Mina, the potions from the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll, and the blueprints for the Nautilus. All seems lost. Especially when the recording reveals that a subsonic frequency embedded on the LP has armed a series of explosives in the now-flooded engine room.
Fortune shines on the League, however, when Dr. Jekyll manages to drink his potion, become Hyde, swim into the engine room, and disarm the bombs without going into a homicidal rage and killing the rest of the crew. Then they pick up a tapping sound on the sonar, a Morse code message from the Invisible Man, stowed away in the escape pod. He gives them a rough bearing to follow and promises to meet up again in the third act.
The Invisible Man's coordinates send the League to M's Mongolian fortress. From the looks of the flares atop the numerous towers, it also doubles as an oil refinery. The Invisible Man returns with a full reconnaissance report. The fortress is actually a highly advanced laboratory staffed by kidnapped scientists forced to make clones of the League members (at least the League members with superhuman abilities not granted by evil portraits). Even the Nautilus is being cloned 8 times over in a drydock 4 times the size of London.
The League uses the time-honored infiltration tactic of walking up to the front gates and killing the guards. Once inside, the Invisible Man starts setting explosives throughout the complex, Mina hunts down Dorian, Nemo and Dr. Jekyll free the scientists, and Sir Sean and Tom go looking for M.
The climax of the movie takes place under a rare three-ring action sequence. Mina challenges Dorian to a swordfight like in Highlander except each of them heal from their wounds instantaneously, until Mina finds Dorian's picture and shows it to him which for some reason causes him to age like the Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Tom fights a crazy flamethrower guy like from Lethal Weapon 4, but since he has the Invisible Man helping him out, he doesn't require Danny Glover to dance around in his underwear to get a shot at the fuel tank. Nemo and Jekyll are attacked by a henchman who downs an entire batch of generic Hyde formula to become a cross between the Visible Steroid Man and a giant angry raspberry. He nearly kills both of them, but the explosives start going off and he gets caught in the rubble. Nemo and Jekyll give their heartfelt thanks to the Invisible Man for timing the explosives such that everyone would still be in the fortress when they started to go off.
Meanwhile, M reveals to Sir Sean that he is in reality Professor Moriarty. That way the two of them can dispense with the silly codename business. Sir Sean chases him through what seems like a half dozen attic rooms filled with random trinkets and boxes, until he finally corners the Sherlock Holmes archvillain. Right before he can fire, Moriarty brings Sir Sean's attention to Tom, who is being held at knifepoint by one of the cloned Invisible Men. While Sir Sean kills the Other Invisible Man, Moriarty stabs Sir Sean in the chest and makes his escape through the open window. He survives the 200-foot drop thanks to wind resistance from his cape, and starts running across the frozen tundra to his escape vehicle.
Tom grabs his rifle and runs to the window. Taking a moment to collect his breath and remember the lessons Sir Sean gave him, he quickly runs the ballistics calculations for a 1.5-mile rifle shot through a driving snowstorm, and cleans up Sherlock Holmes' mess with a single bullet. He returns to Sir Sean's side, who tells Tom with his dying breath "May this new century be yours, son, as the old one was mine," thus passing the torch of global colonial oppression from Britain to America.
We fade to Kenya where the League stands respectfully over Sir Sean's grave. Nemo offers the Nautilus to the remaining members of the League to tour the world fighting crime without Sir Sean, carrying on like Creedence Clearwater Revisited or The Other Ones but hopefully not sucking as bad.
I would have to say that this is the greatest movie I have ever seen.