In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a coalition of our favorite superheroes and anti-heroes from literature (The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, etc.) is formed by the British Government to save the world from an oncoming war. This high concept idea comes courtesy of Alan Moore’s graphic novels of the same name. (Moore previously impressed with Watchmen and V for Vendetta, which proved too complex for Hollywood to adapt into a summer movie.) LXG was primed for this sort of X-Men treatment. But instead of making a movie where each member of the team is allowed to participate in the narrative—as in Moore’s vividly imaginative, splashy panels, which are reminiscent of the great pulp comic strips of yesteryear (The Shadow, The Spirit, Terry and the Pirates)—LXG‘s gang is overshadowed not only by big (i.e. expensive but chintzy) special effects and a watered down spy plot, but by a movie star eager to hog all the glory.
Sean Connery is both star and executive producer, with ample face time as Alan Quatemain, international adventurer and aging lion. He gets a dramatic entrance, all the best one-liners, a father-son relationship with young Tom Sawyer (Shane West) and a swordfight, and as a result doesn’t leave much scenery for his supporting cast to chew on. Peta Wilson’s vampiric Mina Harker, Stuart Townsend’s svelte Dorian Gray and Richard Roxburgh’s obscure master of ceremonies all scramble to get their licks in; they come off as petulant cartoon characters flummoxed by Connery’s age, heft and star power. What is LXG but an accumulation of shoot-outs, explosions, quips and CGI special effects assembled into a semi-coherent haze? The film is frequently busy but completely oblivious of its characters, pacing, mood and performances. Even consumers seeking lowbrow, mindless entertainment might find themselves glazing over.
As directed by action movie hack Stephen Norrington (Blade), what should have been a breathtaking series of cliffhangers is transformed into a morass of bubbling incoherence. I don’t just mean the grand arc of the story, which slips and slides along until the obligatory grand finale, but individual action sequences: the film’s heroes speed through the narrow streets of Venice, but there’s no sense of geography or even logic to the chase. The villains pop up like video game targets waiting to get shot, punched or beaten. Compare it to the exhilarating (and, I might add, comprehensible) chases of The Road Warrior, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even the much-maligned digital inter-zone of The Matrix Reloaded. In those, we had an investment in the characters and their quest; we also had a sense of anticipation of what the chase scenes meant. Here, they’re just chase scenes with blobby CGI villains running around. There’s no investment. In anything. Welcome to the desert of the reel.