With a slew of blockbusters being released all at once, I thought it appropriate to review two at one shot, especially as the two are cut from the same cloth. Both League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or LXG) and Pirates of the Caribbean are big budget period action films with their roots in other media. LXG comes from a graphic novel, and Pirates was, of all things, a Disneyland amusement park ride. While each film is entertaining and ideal for the summer audience, both faced the challenge of creating a vivid picture of times past while keeping the high-octane energy up. One succeeds and one, unfortunately, does not.
LXG is certainly the trickier of the two projects. Author Alan Moore, in his graphic novel, fascinated with the idea of superheroes and their prevalence in modern literature and cinema, transferred the theme to the Victorian era, setting his story in late 19th century Europe and peopling it with larger-than-life figures from the literature of the time. As a result, we get a superteam, not unlike the recent X-Men, but starring, instead, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and the like. It's a great idea, and it's too bad the movie version isn't just a little better. Sean Connery stars as the group's leader, Alan Quartermain, star of such adventure stories as King Solomon's Mines and the like, and is the film's only real star, though the acting is sound throughout. When Quartermain is recruited by the British Government to join and lead this extraordinary team, which also includes Dorian Gray, a man who cannot die, Mina Harker, lover of Count Dracula, and a grown-up Tom Sawyer, he refuses at first, but is convinced by a band of assassins carrying automatic weapons and wearing armor plating, both nearly unheard of in 1899. Once he's on board, the team must travel the globe, seeking a madman who threatens to plunge the world into world war.
This movie could have had more fun with the costumes and the atmosphere had the creators not been so concerned with keeping up the action. It's one battle after another, and we never really get to know these characters, each of whom has a rich and fully fleshed- out story. It's a shame, really, because there was real potential for depths that never get plumbed. The story stays strictly surface level, a few token twists and turns notwithstanding. The effects, the real draw here, I'm afraid, go from cheesy to amazing, but waver throughout the production. I was hoping for a Rube Goldberg kind of a thing, with crazy machines and low-tech magic, but all you get are your basic explosions and gun battles. LXG is a thrill ride, but seriously downplays its own strengths.
Much more entertaining is the swashbuckling adventure Pirates of the Caribbean, though the sub-head, Curse of the Black Pearl, seems entirely unnecessary. A dreaded pirate ship, in search of lost Aztec treasure and carrying a crew of the undead makes for great special effects and atmosphere, but I was pleased that the filmmakers, Jerry Bruckheimer among them, didn't stop there. Pirates creates a vibrant, living, breathing sixteenth century and the characters inhabit it perfectly. Finding the last piece of treasure and kidnapping the governor's daughter, Orlando Bloom, last seen as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, must join forces with a down-on-his-luck pirate, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, in order to get her back. There're enough swordfights and cannon battles to keep any teenage boy occupied, but there's much more. I'm not going to say it'll win any Oscars, but the costumes, cinematography, and set design are all top-notch. Also refreshing was the dialogue which was witty and proper without taking itself too seriously, and without succumbing to anachronistic phrasing simply to keep the kids interested.
A movie based on a ride from a theme park has no business being anything but a throwaway, but this succeeds, largely in part to its stars, Johnny Depp and Geoffry Rush, as evil pirate Captain Barbosa. Each chew through their scenes, hamming it up throughout the production, but it works marvelously. We all know how pirates are supposed to act, and since this is not a thoughtful, historical examination of the scourge of the seas, keeping it somewhat light is ideal. Pirates is great fun and, though scary, should be a blast for the whole family.
I went to see these two movies both on the same day, and, though I enjoyed them both, I'm glad I finished with Pirates' high seas excitement instead the less than extraordinary Gentlemen. Grade: Pirates, A-; LXG, B-
Both films are rated PG-13 for cartoon violence and scary scenes.
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