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Posts Tagged ‘Peta Wilson’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published October 30th 2003:

For some reason, some writers meet more than their fair share of bad luck when it comes to adaptations of their work. Stephen King is legendarily unlucky in this department (although Shawshank Redemption‘s legion of admirers will point out than when one of his films works, it really works). And, to judge from the critical reception accorded to last year’s From Hell and this summer’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, comics scribe Alan Moore seems to be acquiring a similar jinx.

I’m honestly not exaggerating much when I say that Alan Moore has a fair claim to the title of the greatest comic-book writer in history. The League (co-created with Kevin O’Neill) is one of his minor, more playful works, but still streets ahead of virtually everything else on the market, a winning mixture of superhero staples, steampunk imagery, black comedy and genuine erudition.

On the face of it, Stephen Norrington’s adaptation sticks pretty close to the spirit of the original. In 1899, beastliness is afoot as a tank ram-raids the Bank of England, the German Zeppelin fleet is destroyed in its hangars, and all sorts of other caddish behaviour generally occurs. It soon becomes clear – an evil mastermind known as the Fantom is trying to start the First World War fifteen years early!

In Kenya, ageing adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) is recruited by a mysterious spymaster known only as M (Richard Roxburgh) to lead his new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and stop the Fantom – said League being a motley group comprising Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Dr Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dorian Grey (Stuart Townsend), Tom Sawyer (Shane West) and an Invisible Man (Tony Curran). If you don’t know who all of these characters are, stop reading the review now and join a library. If you don’t know who any of them are, just stop reading the review.

This is, to put it mildly, an incredibly goofy premise for any fictional work and it’s to the credit of Norrington and screenwriter David Goyer (a comics writer of considerable skill himself) that it works as well as it does for the big screen (this kind of unlikely teaming-up happens all the time in comics – anyone remember the time Daredevil met Uri Geller? – which made it slightly easier for the book). The art direction is terrific, getting the balance between historical realism and steampunk excess just about right. The special effects are also never less than acceptable, and occasionally very impressive – one CGI brawl easily outpunches the closing battle in the rather bigger-budget Hulk.

Sean Connery’s rather fraught relationship with the director has been well documented, and it’s clear why the great man has virtually disowned the movie – for once Connery’s presence doesn’t swamp proceedings and everyone in the ensemble gets a chance to shine and do their thing. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, to be honest, as the script is nowhere near as subtle or as truthful to the source works as the comic (rather than the book’s courteous and noble psychopath, the film’s Nemo is a polite pirate/martial artist whose death-worship is rather glossed over), but it is exactly what the film needs and infinitely preferable to another film cruelly sacrificed on the altar of Connery’s ego.

But the lack of subtlety and wit in the script is generally reflected in the quality of the performances. As usual, Stuart Townsend is a particular offender and Richard Roxburgh (soon to be seen embodying another iconic character from Victorian literature in next summer’s Van Helsing) goes inexplicably and ridiculously Cockney near the end. Shane West makes zero impression as the parachuted-in Tom Sawyer, and were he appearing alongside any other actor than Sean Connery, their scenes together (which aspire to depict a warm, paternal relationship) would actually come across as slightly homo-erotic.

And, to be fair, there’s a horrendous second act sag – once the League has been assembled, things grind to an utter standstill while characters are laboriously developed and crushingly unsubtle clues as to the identity of the villains are planted all over the place. And when things do get going again, they take the form of a rather dull and half-baked Venetian action sequence which very nearly scuttles the film for good. But it rallies strongly, with some good gags and a carefully constructed climax, and I came out feeling generally well-disposed towards the movie.

The Year of the Superhero has turned out to be a bit of a damp squib as far as our spandex-clad friends are concerned, with Daredevil and Hulk both proving disappointments and only X2 really delivering on all levels. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is inevitably a bit of a disappointment, given its pedigree, but, freed from the demands of summer-blockbusterdom by its delayed release, it’s entertaining enough in its own way. Flawed, but fun.

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