|Sean Connery stars in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.|
Dir. Stephen Norrington; writ. James Dale Robinson, based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill; feat. Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh (PG-13)
Take six fictional characters by as many different authors, and bring them together in one spectacular caper on which the fate of humanity depends. It would not be correct to say that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen reduces this promising premise to a comic book formula, since James Dale Robinson's screenplay began in a comic book. (Albeit one, by highbrow comic author Alan Moore, whose plot and tone scarcely resemble Robinson's screenplay.) But this vapid entertainment does not play in a major league.
The year is 1899, and a brilliant rogue called the Fantom plots to disrupt a diplomatic summit in Venice and take control of the world. He is opposed by a coalition of the reluctantly willing that includes: H. Rider Haggard's great white hunter, Allan Quartermain (Connery); Jules Verne's nautical virtuoso, Captain Nemo (Shah); the bride of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mina Harker (Wilson); Oscar Wilde's immortal fop, Dorian Gray (Townsend); a London thug who has appropriated the appearance of H.G. Welles' Invisible Man (Curran); Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Flemyng); and Tom Sawyer (West). The convergence is as ludicrous as Abbott and Costello meeting the Bobbsey Twins.
Few of these are gentlemen, and even if extraordinary they are not very interesting choices. Jekyll metamorphoses into a Hyde who owes more to the Hulk than Robert Louis Stevenson, and Tom Sawyer is just a callow American who got off the wrong Twain. If you are going to recruit characters from the late 19th century, you might as well choose ones with depth - e.g., Uncle Vanya, Dorothea Brooke, Jude Fawley, Henry Fleming, Halvard Solness, and Edna Pontellier.
Ahead of his time but right in step with movie cliches, the Fantom has hidden weapons of mass destruction that come out of hiding for frequent displays of mayhem. But why bother to set a movie in 1899 if the story is simply Terminator by gaslight? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen lost me in the opening scene, when a tank rolls through the streets of London - even before the heroes speed off in a sleek automobile or travel to Venice in a posh submarine. In 1889, Mark Twain sent a tormented character into the past armed with modern technology. His name was Hank Morgan, and for a Connecticut Yankee he really was an extraordinary gentleman. •