It's 1899 and the British government asks retired adventurer Allan Quatermain to lead a group of 'extraordinary individuals'. Their task: to combat a technological terror campaign led by a mysterious madman, named 'The Fantom', intent on world war.
Of all the comic book properties eagerly purchased by studios following X-Men, Alan Moore's highly-acclaimed melding of Victorian adventure fiction and super-heroics was undoubtedly the most exciting. Teeming with inspired wit and invention, only a supreme effort could screw it up. "Prepare For The Extraordinary" screamed the presumptuous trailer. You should indeed - albeit, crushingly, an extraordinary display of creative cowardice and mishandling.
The drive to concoct a period X-Men results in a depressingly clumsy action movie, one which treats the audience's intelligence with infuriating contempt.
The promising start - Quatermain (Connery's craggy charm on form) is lured from his colonial African home to London (hats off to Carol Spier's beautiful production design) to assemble the League - is quickly evaporated by the film's most damning trait: the assumption we know nothing of these characters. They are, of course, literary icons of many decades' cultural standing. The first hour comprises tediously detailed, ham-fisted character introductions via Robinson's painfully expositional dialogue - the actors flounder with characters free of depth, life or chemistry. Nemo merely provides the gadgets and martial artistry, the now-vampiric Mina Harker is wasted eye-candy, the new Invisible Man is an irritating Cockney spiv, and the Hulk-like Jekyll and Hyde moans and sweats between appearances as poor CG. Ironically, Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray, who are not in the source comic, fare better. West's Sawyer has a good mentor/protegÚ schtick with Quatermain, while Townsend's Gray is undoubtedly the most fun role.
By the time the League actually does something, the film drowns in its own forced spectacle. Fight scenes are shoddily edited, ridiculous set-pieces fail to hide woeful effects and worse are the bewildering array of continuity errors. Anyone who has seen Blade knows that Norrington can direct slick action fare, but there's scant evidence here.
No matter how troubled the shoot was, the movie was shanghaied from the off, courtesy of Hollywood's dependence on market-defined 'success'.
Its not quite this years Avengers, but at times flirts dangerously close with one-star ignominy.