Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Now Playing: The League of Ext. Gentlemen

This was beat up a lot when it came out by fans of Alan Moore's graphic novel and it's easy to see why. Moore's book was reverent about the literary sources it cribed from and Moore's usual dedication to the finer points of character, which he then twists inward as hard as possible, was evident from the first frame. Now compare that to the movie version which is a bombastic Cliffs Notes version of the same story as filtered through the American studio system.

Again, I get the hate. But if you come at it like I did (i.e. ignorant of the source material except by proxy) then it's actually not half bad. I would never go so far as to call it great but there are quite a few things director Stephen Norrington and his merry crew of misfits managed to nail. While the effects work ranges from solid to shoddy, sometimes in the same scene, quite a few beautiful pieces emerged. Heck, there were even a few performances I enjoyed though Sir Sean was not among them.

The storyline has a group of fictional characters culled from the literature of the time being forced to work together to combat a foe known only as The Phantom. It seems this mystery man who hides behind a metal mask is stirring up trouble in 1899 Europe trying to provoke a global war. A mysterious British operative recruits these select few and calls them the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Some truly are extraordinary while others have a few secrets they'd prefer to keep hidden.

Naturally, their choice of leader is none other than Alan Quartermain (Connery). The sound of crickets chirping means no one else out there knows who that is, which says plenty about the state of literate history in our society. It hardly matters because Connery plays him exactly the way he plays all of his characters for the past 15 years. I recently found out that Connery was the first choice to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy which would have been an absolute disaster. Ian McKellen nailed the nuances of that character whereas Connery would use the exact same mannerisms he does in every film including this one.

On the flip side, Peta Wilson and Stuart Townsend (of all people) nail their roles to the floor and absolutely own them. Wilson plays Mina Harker (of "Dracula" fame) while Townsend plays Dorian Gray (of the Oscar Wilde novel). I've never watched Wilson's Le Femme Nikita but if she was half the animal she is in this film then I can understand the following she's developed. Mina is a dignified Victorian woman with a demon lurking just under the skin that she can barely control. I'm sure Moore milked that metaphor for all it was worth in the graphic novel, but here the film makers went for the violence rather than the social commentary whenever Mina lets her inner side out for a spin. Townsend, meanwhile, is hilarious as the upper crust Dorian who has no trouble throwing out pithy comments while slicing and dicing his foes.

Shane West pops in as American secret agent Tom Sawyer, an obvious addition per the studio, and whlie he fares well as a surrogate son for Quartermain he remains little more than a standard boring action hero. Everyone else has layers of character to draw from, but Sawyer seems to be handy with a rifle and that's about it. Another thinly drawn character was Captain Nemo but at least he had the Nautilus which is easily the coolest, and largest, submarine ever devised. Watching this beast slice through the ocean with ease was beautiful.

While this certainly is the furthest thing from lasting entertainment, it's at least a slick looking actioner. Even the many throw away lines that reference other material (looking at you first mate of Captain Nemo) are kind of fun if you just run with it and don't take them as insults to your intelligence. And did I mention that Peta Wilson is scorching hot as a barely-restrained animal wrapped in a Victorian bodice?

No comments:

Post a Comment