When I first heard that a movie was planned for Alan Moore’s exquisite graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I thought to myself, “This could either be a very good thing … or a very bad thing.” When the advertising campaign hit, unveiling the preposterous LXG acronym, my hopes took a downturn. Still, I held out hope that something good might come of the effort. Alas, it was not to be. The product that director Stephen Norrington and screenwriter James Robinson have foisted upon unsuspecting viewers is 110 minutes of lifeless celluloid cleverly masquerading as a movie.
So where did they go wrong? Since I’ve already admitted to being a fan of Moore’s graphic novel, let me get my fan girl complaints out of the way first. While it’s not unexpected that movies originating from comics will have a different plot than the original, LXG is so far removed from its original source as to have been utterly disinherited by the immediate family. Where the comics reveled in intelligent, witty repartee, the movie relies on toss-away one-liners the actors should rightfully be embarrassed to have been paid to utter (Dorian Gray to Mina Harker: “I always knew I’d nail you one more time. I didn’t know it’d be literally”).
And the characterizations … bear no resemblance to the originals, save in superficial ways. Miss Wilhemina Murray (Mina Harker in the movie) never once dresses up in a leather-looking bodysuit, summons bats and runs around sucking the blood out of the baddies in the comics. In fact, what’s special about her stays under wraps — under her tasteful scarf — for the entire run of the first series of comics. Her role as the leader of the League has been handed over in the movie to Connery’s Quatermain (a strapping great white hunter here, rather than Moore’s laudanum-weakened old man), and her crowning achievement at the end with M has been given to interloper Tom Sawyer. Instead, she’s handed a scientific bent and an inane fling with Dorian Gray, which serves only to set up the above line. What’s done to her role is the worst by far, but it’s typical of the damage done.
There’s more, but the sun is over the yardarm and I’ve better things to do….
And so, if I accept that the movie has really not one iota to do with the source material beyond shared names, and move on, how does it fare on its own merits? Wait. Merits? Let’s see … it’s less than two hours long. That’s something, right? But seriously now, the plot is a jumbled rehash of a gazillion other action movies. The headline might read: Megalomaniac Millionaire M Manipulates Mayhem. Nothing new to see here. Move along.
So, what about the acting? Unfortunate, at best. Connery was a poor choice for Quatermain, for he’s really nothing more than playing Sean Connery here, merrily chewing up the scenery around him. Peta Wilson replaced Monica Bellucci as Mina Harker early in the film’s infancy (probably a wise career move for Ms. Bellucci), and more’s the pity, as her Mina is rather bland (when she’s not rapaciously exsanguinating M’s henchmen that is). Stuart Townsend’s Gray comes across at first as smugly wry, but before long he’s naught more than smugly smarmy. Shane West takes top honours, actually, for being at least inoffensive in what is an unfortunate throwaway stereotype role.
To top things off, the special effects are shoddy (obvious matte paintings abound) and the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, chaotic and overlong (especially when the focus is on Nemo or Quatermain). Inexcusable, for an action movie. Furthermore, even if I accept the fantastical nature of the Nautilus (though couldn’t they have made it look a wee bit more like a squid?), I can’t possibly accept that it could sail into the canals of Venice. Nope. Not buying that. There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s just plain ridiculous.
The worst of it is, the ending perfectly set up a sequel. Gods help us, one was more than enough.
In short, save your money and your time. Go buy the graphic novel. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
(Twentieth Century Fox, 2003)