During recent years the comic book has been a popular source and wise investment for studios, with the likes of Spider Man (2002) and X-Men 2 (2003) proving to be big money makers and guaranteeing packed theatres across the globe. Unlike recent comic book adaptations, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen focuses on a group of heroic characters who, in contrast to the iconic figures of Marvel, one would least expect to appear within the comic: a collection of characters from predominantly British classic novels.
Based on an original graphic novel by the cult British writer Allan Moore and illustrator Kevin O’Neill, the story takes place during an alternative Victorian age at the turn of the 19th century, in which the world is threatened by the evil and mysterious Phantom. Seven legends in their own right, all for one reason or another now living on the brink of society, are brought together and reluctantly accept the mission to put a halt to the Phantom’s plan to slaughter the world’s leaders. Led by Allan Quartermain (Connery), and recruited by M, a member of Her Majesty’s Empire, The League makes for an unlikely mix – its members include Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), the bride of Dracula, Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), an invisible man (Curran), Tom Sawyer (Shane West), Dr Jekyll (Jason Flemming) and Dorian Grey (Stuart Townsend). Once together, this motley band of flawed characters are charged with saving the world from certain destruction.
By combining two mediums which are usually (and unfairly) considered to be at opposite ends of the literary spectrum – the comic book and the classic novel – the film seems to promise an imaginative new take on the super hero story, but it quickly becomes apparent where the director’s priorities lie. Rather than remaining completely faithful to the original graphic novel to comply with the expectations of fans of the original graphic novel, director Steven Norrington opts for a more crowd-pleasing, special effects laden blockbuster. Fans of Allan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s wonderful graphic novels may be disappointed, and those who have ever picked up one of the source books might feel a little insulted. The majority of the characters are unveiled too briefly, and only later are we granted a vague insight into their past and relevance. In fact, the movie attempts to cram too much information into the narrative during the first half of the movie, and those moments when the story teeters on the brink of becoming genuinely interesting are hurried along in favour of the next grand special effect or action sequence.
Some of the effects and set pieces are undeniably impressive – for example, the appearance of Nemo’s colossal ‘sword of the sea’ ship/submarine, and the wry portrait of London in July, complete with beautifully exaggerated grey skies and rain-swept streets. But the attractive visuals can’t distinguish the film from being any more than your average action adventure flick, lazily trawling through what could have been a great movie, and conveniently leaving just enough out for the inevitable sequel.
An obvious change to the original comic is the addition of Tom Sawyer to the League in order to make the film more appealing to American audiences, but the addition of Tom Sawyer is more than just a trans-Atlantic crowd pleaser designed to ignite a little audience identification. The film attempts to create some kind of kinship between many of the characters, but as the majority come across as two dimensional, and the possible romantic links between Mina Harker and Dorian Grey are far too ambiguous and sinister, Sawyer adds a touch of watery-eyed romanticism, especially through his father/son like relationship with Quatermain.
The performances are all pretty standard for this type of event movie. Connery, as always, outweighs the other cast members simply by uttering the odd witty quip in that infectious Scottish brogue, but Stuart Townsend also contributes a worthy appearance, and his camp and colourful Dorian Grey propels the film’s tone into the realms of tongue-in-cheek where, ultimately, it seems most comfortable. Like Blade (1998), Norrington’s other venture into the comic book world, the director fails to take full advantage of the great material provided, and simply provides 110 minutes of cheap cinema thrills for the mindless popcorn munching movie fan within us all.