The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

By Russell Baillie

By RUSSELL BAILLIE

(Herald rating: * * )

One might think that of all the comic book flicks coming off the blockbuster conveyor belt, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be a rare case of brains over brawn.

After all, the original graphic novels and comics by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill are inspired, crazed, outlandish stuff which have all sorts of sick fun with their grand conceit.

On the page, literary characters such as Alan Quatermain (King Solomon's Mines, among others), H.G. Wells' original Invisible Man, Captain Nemo (of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Mina Harker (Bram Stoker's Dracula) and Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde become a team of superheroes - complete with character flaws and odd individual vices.

The problem here isn't that not enough respect has been paid to the dark tone of the source material.

If its adapters had done so, it would have resulted in a bizarre film playing to an extremely select audience all over the age of 18, and undoubtedly male and single.

No, knocking some quirks out of the comic characters seems sensible, whether it's turning Quartermain from a washed-out opium junkie into a great white hunter fighting off his dotage (in the form of Sean Connery), or demoting the invisible man from sexual psychopath to creepy kleptomaniac.

The trouble with the film is it seems to think that having all that literary baggage might replace the need to tell a decent story. After introducing the gang, it can't seem to think of one. Though it can be terribly, terribly clever.

Especially as it comes with many a reference to books other than the ones its characters spring from - Mr Hyde is found going berserk in the Rue Morgue; "Call me Ishmael" is how Nemo's first mate introduces himself.

The man who recruits Connery's Quartermain to help save the world is called "M". And it comes with characters that don't figure in the comics - the mysteriously ageless Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend in the sneering fop mode he used in Queen of the Damned), and Tom Sawyer (Shane West), who apparently grew up to be a US Secret Service Agent and whose existence here is simply one of demographic appeal.

Set in 1899, the slim plot involves a baddie called the Fantom who, having developed weapons that aren't yet meant to exist, tries to induce a world war to which he can become chief arms dealer. Or something like that.

Along the way the largely incoherent action makes a mess of the Bank of England, a large part of Venice and some far-flung snowy part of Asia. Transport between them is via Nemo's giant submarine Nautilus. And while it requires suspension of disbelief as to the existence of all that advanced technology, it might have helped if the computer-generated vessel, among other things, didn't look so crummy.

That said, Mr Hyde is certainly a piece of work, though just where and why the monster from the Id turns good guy is one of those things the film just hopes you won't notice with all those explosions going on.

Some of the other characters impress, especially Peta Wilson's Mrs Harker as the vampiress whose recruitment to the league apparently means the old rules about daylight and mirrors don't apply.

As team captain, Connery is gruff and manly and not much else, and the rest of the league don't see enough of the ball to create an impression.

In the end LXG finishes as just another comic book flick, its intriguing what-if, just one big whatever.

Cast: Sean Connery, Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsend, Jason Flemyng

Director: Stephen Norrington

Rating: M (violence)

Running time: 110 mins

Screening: Village, Hoyts, Berkeley cinemas

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