League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

"League" is a mess.

When Moriarity, Sherlock Holmes's elusive enemy, shows up in director Stephen Norrington's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," I remember why I like that 19th century detective Holmes so much--he uses his brain. In this film, blow-em-up, not brains, is the operative idea, even if it is a rude but emerging munitions world in 1899.

Adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) battles "The Fantom" with Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the ancient Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), and the destructive personality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng). Fantom has an arsenal of new devices, most notably tanks and automatic weapons, which seem impervious to old warfare and are figuratively ushering in a new century of destruction.

Unfortunately the film is also reaffirming the 21st century's already overloaded arsenal in movies (Just go to the cinema anytime this summer 2003), itself impervious to cries of critics like me: "Enough already!" Even executive producer Sean Connery seemed to distance himself from his own movie by openly trashing its director.

Anyway, "League" is a mess with too many heroes and too much action. Its redeeming factor for me is that Mr. Hyde is a better Hulk than this summer's Hulk and the graphic-novel roots seem more attractive by contrast. Nineteenth-century heroes gathered together to fight new menaces of a new century is an idea worthy of a comic book, but just plain superficial in a movie.