The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) is a fine showcase for a number of very talented performers. Unfortunately, it is also a narrative mess desperately in need of a cohesive approach and singular vision.
The core concept of The LXD is absolutely fascinating and is what drew me to the series in the first place. The idea of incorporating dance sequences into films is nothing new. Series creator Jon Chu is especially aware of this since he also helmed the second and third entries in the Step Up film series. While those movies featured plenty of sharp moves, The LXD attempts to take the idea of a dance flick to its next evolutionary stage. Dance is no longer a diversion or break from the central narrative. Here, dance is the narrative. Plot points are communicated and thematic elements explored through the use of meticulous choreography in a modern context.
In Chu's vision, that modern context is the superhero tale. He envisions two groups at war: the LXD and the Alliance of the Dark. The Alliance in turn is made up of two villainous sub-groups: Organization X (the Ox) and the Umbras. Members of both groups have one thing in common. They can all dance like the dickens. In fact, they can use their moves to harness a special force known as the Ra. Where other films have viewed the 'dance off' as an excuse for silliness, here it is the deciding factor in every skirmish between the forces of good and evil.
Okay, so I admit that the idea of dancing superheroes is a bit goofy. With that said, I had no problem jumping into the universe of the LXD. This is largely due to the fact that the fantastical elements of the plot are still presented with a touch of realism. Characters don't generate pop and lock fireballs or fire pelvic thrust lasers to vanquish their enemies. The Ra is still manifested as a physical force in the real world. Its kinetic impact is noticeable but never exaggerated. I give Chu a great deal of credit for making the power of dance as believable as X-ray vision or retractable adamantium claws.
The rest of the credit for this enterprise goes to the choreography team of Harry Shum, Jr. and Christopher Scott (with an assist from Galen Hooks) and their massive cast of dancers. They present so many styles of dance with such a high degree of confidence that the whole venture feels like a non-stop celebration of the human body in motion. Everyone will have their favorites among the dancers and so do I. The robotic stylings of Chad "Madd Chadd" Smith and the breezy control of Shum, Jr. are consistently impressive.
Having lavished so much praise on the performers and the central concept, it's time for my own (decidedly non-adamantium) claws to come out. A killer idea is hard to appreciate when its execution is all over the place. Since this was first presented to the world as a web series (of 20 individual short episodes), perhaps continuity and consistency just weren't major concerns. What may work for a few minutes at a time quickly becomes tiresome in its scattershot approach when viewed at length. Plot points crop up only to be abandoned completely or are revisited after they have been rendered irrelevant.
The 'anything goes' aesthetic even extends to the visual feel of the project. Characters move from high school gyms to abandoned warehouses and submarines before having a grand finale in a Wild West saloon as if it's the most natural thing in the world. I assure you, it's not. The series has at least 5 directors and it shows. The lack of real focus prevents the project from succeeding on any sort of narrative level. There is a subplot featuring "Madd Chadd" and his struggle with a shades-of-grey villain that could have been compelling but is ultimately lost among the crowd of less interesting characters and their trivial back stories. Also, please don't get me started on the incredibly annoying interstitials featuring Roger Aaron Brown. His charisma and gravity can't help him get past the leaden speeches that are shoved down his throat.
This release only represents the first two seasons of the web series. Apparently at least one more season has been produced and is awaiting consumption. I really hope Chu and his band of directors can get behind a singular vision for the project in the future. As it stands, The LXD is a decent showcase for the dancers involved but they deserve something unforgettable.
The anamorphic widescreen image was presented with sufficient clarity. I didn't notice any obvious visual defects although a few of the darker shots were a bit lacking in shadow detail. Given the project's web based origins, I found the presentation to be above average.
The audio was presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the mix fared very well during the dance sequences as the music filled out the entire soundstage quite nicely. During purely dialogue driven scenes, the rear surrounds were used sparingly. English, French, Spanish and Portugese subtitles were available.
The only extra on this release is The LXD: Building The Legion (12:05). This short featurette gives us interviews with the directors and cast of the series. There is some discussion of the tale that is supposed to range from the 1920s to the year 3000. We also cover some ground regarding the varied stylistic and visual approaches. I would have appreciated some more footage of the choreographers coming up with the crazy moves on display but that may have to wait until the next release.
If you want to witness a bunch of talented dancers working it out on screen, then The LXD is exactly what you are looking for. If you want a series that builds in a meaningful way with interesting characters and adopts a consistent visual and thematic approach along the way...well, keep looking. Series creator Jon Chu and his crew have come up with a fascinating concept that falls short of being anything other than eye candy. With more seasons coming our way, hope springs eternal. Rent It.