The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (12A)
Poor Alan Moore. In two movies his astoundingly inventive (and deliberately plagiaristic) comic books have been bastardised to the extent that they are barely recognisable.
First there was From Hell, a tale of foggy alleys and blood-drenched back streets prowled by Jack the Ripper in which the gore and shocks of Moore’s artwork was diluted in what became a self-conscious film.
Now we have The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – a hotchpotch of Victoriana, sci-fi, horror and comic strip fantasy bestrode by the iconic figure of Sean Connery and peppered with an array of supporting characters plucked straight from the pages of epic fiction.
But what should be another eye-popping blockbuster swiftly emerges as just another empty vessel. What should be impressive and groundbreaking looks mediocre. This is everything Tim Burton’s Batman would have been if helmed by a lesser artist. Worse, it’s now 15 years down the line and, sadly, it’s all been seen before.
The premise is indeed extraordinary. The nations of the world turn to heroic explorer Allan Quartermain to lead a band of extraordinary adventurers to prevent an evil villain known only as The Fantom from destroying humanity.
Quartermain (Connery, ten years too old for the role) recruits a disparate band. Among those who join him in his quest are Captain Nemo (Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah), vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dr. Henry Jekyll and his demonic alter ego (Jason Flemyng) and Tom Sawyer (Shane West).
Their quest takes them from Africa to London to Venice to the icy wastes of Mongolia in their pursuit, all the while directed by ‘M’ (Richard Roxburgh in a nice nod to the 007 series).
But while The League… (or LXG, as makers 20th Century Fox christened it) begins with a flourish worthy of comic book camp it soon descends into overblown tosh that neither Connery, also executive producing, nor his impressive cast, can save.
Suspension of disbelief is director Stephen Norrington’s biggest tool, yet he manages to explode each and every myth he concocts by foolishly expecting his audience to swallow each increasingly audacious setpiece scene.
There is also too much going on in a crowded story, with too many supporting characters each of whom has to have their moment on screen. It jars that the lion’s share of the action goes to Shane West’s US Government agent – an imported American who wasn’t even in Moore’s original.
Throw in Matrix-style fights, grating modern dialogue, cheesy one-liners and some lacklustre CGI monsters – Mr. Hyde resembles a mutant version of The Hulk – and The League… dispenses with any illusions of extraordinariness and emerges as merely ordinary.
And that’s a shame, because production designer Carol (The Fly, Blade II) Spier, cinematographer Dan (the original Danish version of Nightwatch, Mimic) Laustsen and the five-strong art direction team deserved better. Much better.
The big loser here is Norrington, apparently a victim of both Connery’s influences and a series of floods that wrecked his Prague sets. Let’s hope he fares better with his next, the Jennifer Lopez starrer Tick-Tock.
Star rating: **