Film Notes: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

(Not all of my reviews are as full as they should be. I’m trying to get all my writing together on this blog, scattered around as it is, so the style of this review might seem different to more recent posts. The theme of this post and the ones over the weekend will be comic book movies.)

I am a fan of comic books. I thought you should know this. With respect to the integrity of this review, my natural bias must be admitted. The original limited series (there were six comics that were eventually collected in a trade paperback edition, which the fancier publishers will term as a ‘graphic novel’ but I am being honest here, remember), as written by Alan Moore and drawn by Kev O’Neill, was something quite delightful. Using literary characters from novels written at the end of the 19th century in and around London, Moore created the concept of a proto-super hero team, seeing as the origins of the super hero can be clearly traced to the fiction of that time. It was fun, smart, engaging, literary and worked very well as a comic book, as that was the intention. Hollywood, never one to miss up the opportunity to steal a good idea, came calling. And that’s where the paths diverged.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or LXG, the embarrassing abbreviation in an attempt to graft some of the deserved success of the X-Men movies onto the film, indicative of the blinkered belief that this film was a super-hero action blockbuster just because it was a comic book) is a sad, lifeless, sporadically almost interesting affair. The changes to the source material don’t help. Mina Murray, instead of being a recovering victim of Dracula, is now an actual vampire, with the whole bloodlust, strength, not easily killed, turning into bats nonsense, and has acquired a Slavic accent for no particularly good reason. Tom Sawyer is, ironically for such a venture, anachronistically thrown into the mix (I think he was published in the 1850’s, but I could be wrong) for the sake of adding an American, and to give a woeful father-son type relationship with Allan Quartermain, as manfully played by a disinterested Sean Connery. Dorian Gray is turned from a vain Victorian into an invulnerable dandy, although this does provide a glimmer of entertainment, as Sean Townsend seems to enjoy playing the role for the silliness it is. The Invisible Man is not version from the book (another studio has the film rights to that franchise) so instead we get a cockney villain who stole the formula, played by a man doing an impression of Bob Hoskins, as the excuse for the sort of CGI last seen in The Hollow Man. Captain Nemo, while staying true to the original novels, and the comic book, is transformed into a martial art expert, dispensing foes with kicks and sword, as well as being the inventor/engineer.

The plot, such as it is, follows what Denny O’Neill, a comic book writer of old, calls the ‘two fights and a chase’ story that is the basic of super hero ideas. There is a big fight to get things started, the League chases the bad guy, and then there is a fight at the end where the good guys win and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, with some flimsy character arcs thrown in for our heroes. The presence of cars, even in a film with a submarine the size of the Empire State Building, seems irritating. Machine guns, tanks and armour are used just because it makes the bad guys look tough (which is some nonsense to do with the plot, but it is tangential, at best, to the mechanics of the film), and the whole thing smacks of something trying to be more than it is supposed to be.

I believe that every film, even one derived from another source, should be taken on its own merits and not measured by the original (which is why I rather like From Hell, because it has almost nothing to do with the book at all, and turns the film into a period version of the ‘cop on the edge’ story, which just happens to be based on historical events) but this is just awful. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was an amateur who made such a mess of the adaptation, but the script is by James Robinson, himself a good comic book writer of such books as Starman, The Golden Age and Firearm, so he has no excuse. There is almost nothing worth the two hours spent watching this film, which is a great shame, as the idea behind it is great. Go and buy the original story in its beautiful comic book form instead.

Rating: D

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