Comic books have done well by superhero legions - Justice League, Fantastic Four - but The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is truly strange and beautiful. The brainchild of writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill, it brings together mythic Brit-lit characters Allan Quatermain, Henry Jekyll, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker and an invisible man (but not The Invisible Man for copyright reasons). Great idea, huh? Even better, it's wittily executed, packaged as a rollicking fin de siècle sci-fier. Shame that so few people have ever bloody read it.
Hollywood chucking $110 million at the screen could have changed all that... If it had worked. Instead, Stephen Blade Norrington's version of LXG is hamstrung by unnecessary changes and an incoherence that's painfully at odds with Moore's storytelling acumen.
It's not so much the changes to the plot (now a race against time to stop a technology-savvy fiend called the Fantom from starting a world war), as the changes to the characters. Moore's tale pictured them as has-been doubters finding redemption among icons; James Dale Robinson's script transforms them into invincible ass-kickers. It's a Hollywood no-brainer.
The problems pretty much begin and end with Sean Connery. On paper, he's a natural choice to play the ageing - no, aged - Quatermain. But Connery, who also acts as an executive producer, isn't content to be a team player. So what we've got here, ladies and gents, is a star vehicle, the revered Scotsman moulding Quatermain from the opium addict of the comic into an unstoppable septuagenarian with Arnie-style quips. Too often, this feels like a League Of One.
Then there's the addition of two more characters: Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and American Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Why? To bring down the average age of the cast and allow for a little sex appeal. That, and to give Peta Wilson's Harker a pair of romantic rivals - not that it plays with a hint of credibility. Sawyer also acts as a son figure to Quatermain, introducing the kind of schmaltz that the comic book so assiduously avoids.
That said, the rest of the cast is appealing enough, especially Jason Flemyng's twitchy Dr Jekyll and Wilson's regal vampiress. But the film's real sell is its look, from a shadowy, gas-lit London to the gleaming beauty of Nemo's sub Nautilus. (Impressive, but you know a movie's in trouble when reviewers have to bang on about the production design to get in a few kind words.)
And that's where the praise stops, Norrington's direction taking the movie to the brink of being unintelligible - and beyond. Big bangs, one-liners and (frequently terrible) CGI whizz before our eyes like a video game as characters, drama and plot are drowned out by the frenzied pyrotechnics. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? League Of Decidedly Ordinary Geezers, more like.
Not entirely in league with the comic book and weighted far too heavily towards Sean Connery, LXG occasionally looks good but has little else to offer. Approach with caution.
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