The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

(In theaters, July 2003) Argh. One can say a lot of nasty things about bad movies, but this is something else; a fantastic premise gone horribly dull, a botched adaptation and a waste of talents. A well-written The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen would have been a movie for the ages, a landmark in a tired field of adventure blockbusters. The original graphic novel is a wonder of literacy; alas, the film was executed by lesser artists. Only the title, character names and basic concepts of the original work has survived: A team of literary superheroes is assembled to battle threats to the Victorian empire. Some initial changes work well (Dorian Gray), some don’t (Tom Sawyer) and some are simply useless (Mina Harker, vampire!) But what sounds like a promising start turns sour as soon as the team is assembled and they’re off on their first assignment in Venice. This ill-conceived sequence stretches suspension of disbelief and snaps it. (Where to begin? The submarine fitting in the canals, the car chase, the reaction of the crowd, the dumb “firebreak” idea or the snipers standing by just in case?) From then on, all the fancy steampunk designs, cool Sean Connery moments or action sequences can’t save this film from a disappointed verdict. It’s not bad enough to be ridiculous (the set design alone is worth our attention), but it’s not good enough to do justice to the premise. If you’re going to set up all of these interesting elements only to ignore their potential, why bother?

(Second viewing, On DVD, August 2004) A year later, this film is still as frustrating as it was on opening weekend: So much potential wasted! The DVD at least has the decency to offer a making-of that’s more interesting than the usual promo stuff found on other blockbusters. The audio commentaries aren’t bad either, though it’s kind of interesting to hear the producer of the film spend a significant amount of his time answering fan-boy criticism by repeating that it’s “just a fantasy”. Uh-huh.

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