Readers of Moore's series, initially about a Victorian-age Justice League cobbled together to retrieve an anti-gravity device, will recognize little of what they see on the screen. Instead, they will feel betrayed, bored and condescended to. Anyone unfamiliar with the comic will wonder what the bother's about. The players are all here. Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (From Hell's Jason Flemyng), Dracula's Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), and Jules Verne's Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) gather to do the bidding of "M" (Richard Roxburgh), head of British intelligence. Alas, there's no villain as memorable as Goldfinger, only a masked, out-to-conquer-the-world Phantom ("how operatic," Connery says) revealed as the conspiratorial heavy familiar to the comic's readers.
There have been copious changes: Shane West appears as Special Agent Sawyer, the American creation of Mark Twain, and Stuart Townsend plays the immortal Dorian Gray. They're pretty boys shoehorned into Moore's once-violent and unsightly contingent of criminals and miscreants, sanitized for PG-13 consumption by screenwriter James Dale Robinson and director Stephen Norrington. The League's penchant for violence and villainy has been neutered; its members now do only bad things to bad people.
Robinson and Norrington, whose roots lie deep in rich comic-book soil -- the former resurrected DC's moribund Hawkman, the latter directed the first Blade -- know the changes will gall their audience of self-proclaimed purists. But for studio work, it's better to lure in millions with dumb summer sci-fi than satisfy thousands with a literate adaptation, right? League is the kind of film Jerry Bruckheimer, taking the booty this weekend with Pirates of the Caribbean, would have been proud to claim as his own: a strident barrage of explosions, gunfights and car chases (but in 1899).
Moore has been suitably adapted before. Albert and Allen Hughes transformed his Jack the Ripper story From Hell into a gloriously grim widescreen tale of paranoia and viscera. Norrington's League captures only surfaces. Connery looks like O'Neill's rendering of Quatermain, turn-of-the-century Europe looks ready to collapse into the dust of history, and Nemo's tricked-out Nautilus shines like the Love Boat, but Norrington and Robinson have forgotten the comic's soul and anxious mood. Moore invested his characters with flaws, with tangible humanity. Here, they're just props to shoot at something, punch someone, detonate something. They're as flat as a piece of paper.