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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen By Matt Singer
Dumbing down a comic book that was all about its smarts in the first place was a bad idea - replacing said smarts with mindless, unexciting action only worsens the problem. Stephen Norrington’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is mild in every way: mildly faithful to its source, mildly clever, and mildly entertaining until the last forty-five minutes when it becomes an out-and-out bore.
In the comic, the League is led by Mina Harker, who is charged with controlling a veritable rogue’s gallery of some of English literature’s most famous protagonists, including a washed-up (and heroin-addicted) Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Invisible Man. Here, a British government man named M (Richard Roxburgh) recruits Quartermain (Sean Connery) to lead a similar team against a mysterious villain named The Fantom (it’s spelled that way in the credits, though for the life of me I cannot understand why). He has a typical make-money-off-of-global-chaos plan and he dresses like the more flamboyant friend of Siegfried and Roy. There was no Fantom in the original League comic, and his addition here as a generic and extremely goofy villain (who thought it was a good idea to give him that accent? And that mask? And that Michael Bolton hair?) is one of the film’s many problems.
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League strays from its source in many ways, mostly to its own detriment - not because I am in love with the comic and refuse to accept changes, but because the original had brains and Moore’s trademark panache for a gripping story with wit to spare, and the changes only serve to dumb down the story and, I guess, to make it more palatable to mainstream American audiences. One such change is that addition of Shane West’s Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer, who serves to give such an audience a character to identify with, and to give Connery’s Quartermain a surrogate son, but his character is mostly irritating and bland - and not very Tom Sawyerish in any particular way. Connery stumbles too; he’s too interested in his “naughty” one-liners to truly invest his Quartermain with any of the pathos that the script calls for. If a scene doesn’t feature Quartermain discussing his past, Connery plays him as his typical Scottish badass, which makes his arc a lot less interesting.
Oddly, League’s best element is something totally original to the film - the addition of Dorian Gray, played with suave flair by Stuart Townsend. The Dorian Gray of literature was immortal, thanks to a picture that aged in his place, and here being immortal also allows him to heal any injury, making him most useful in a fight. It’s one of the few clever ideas to come out of James Dale Robinson’s script (Robinson is a comic book writer himself, with much better material in that medium to his credit). He’s a character with such potential in this genre that Moore would be wise to add Gray to his next League mini-series.
After the introduction of the League’s members, the plot stumbles and the special effects cannot pick up the slack. Instead of focusing on small but effective visuals, League spreads itself too thin, creating massive vistas that look unconvincing, instead of making sure that the Invisible Man looks good in every scene (half the time, he’s not evil remotely invisible, he’s just actor Tony Curran in white makeup). Also, the continuity could use some cleaning up; any time a League member is involved in a fight that destroys their clothing, they are always in a fresh pair of knickers within seconds. I can accept that Dorian’s wounds heal, but do his clothes? And would Dr. Jekyll take a time out from saving a sinking ship to put on a fresh suit?
The whole affair is a shame because of the strength of the source material and the utterly unimaginative handling of it. The commercials and trailers suggested the 20th Century Fox marketing team had no idea how to sell the film’s unique mix of British lit and super-heroing, but the sad truth is that there is nothing here to sell in the first place. Besides the Gray character, there isn’t much here worth your money or your time. It’s a lot of empty spectacle, a summer movie of the worst kind. All involved have been quite naughty, and there is no game on.