Extraordinary! Connery steals the whole show

Action stars whose biggest fight is to keep their careers going in their 40s or 50s (T3 came right in time to save Schwarzenegger from following in the direct-to-video footsteps of Stallone and Van Damme) must be totally envious of Sean Connery.

Connery, who will be 73 next month, doesn't try to hide his age with Botox and such, but in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen he shows he can still kick ass (or more frequently, punch face) convincingly. Though some continue to find him sexy as well, he plays down that angle, his character indicating early on that he's over women after "two wives and many lovers." That helps level the playing field for the three men who express interest in the story's lone female.

Her presence makes the title as sexist as X-Men, but sexism seems more fitting in Victorian England, where LXG, as the hip crowd knows it, takes place.

Directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade) and based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore (From Hell) and Kevin O'Neill, this ripping yarn is an awesome combination of retro design and modern technology. James Dale Robinson's screenplay is a masterful example of economical storytelling, with eight principal characters, a complex plot, two major action set pieces and several minor ones, yet considerable down time for the audience to catch its breath.

Every member of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, "a team of unique men" (sic!), has a backstory that can and did fill a book or several. These fictional characters are brought together to save the British Empire and, incidentally, the world. Each is larger than life, if not technically superpowered, and they're recruited by M (Richard Roxburgh), "M for Mystery," when the masked "Fantom" threatens to destroy the city of Venice while a secret meeting of European leaders is taking place there.

Allan Quatermain (Connery) is an aging adventurer who still has some fight in him. As he puts it, "Old tigers, sensing the end, are at their most fierce. They go down fighting." Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) lends the group his futuristic inventions, including the submarine Nautilus and the automobile.

Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), a victim of Dracula, has a number of tricks up her bat-sleeve, including a continuing attraction for her ex-lover, Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), who can't age or be destroyed. Stealth is the specialty of Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), an (not The) invisible man. (The H.G. Wells estate must have found a way to keep the original out of the public domain.)

You don't want to get Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) mad, because a little of his potion turns him into the Hulk-like Mr. Hyde who shares Hulk's secret of one-size-fits-all pants while clothes on his upper body shred as he doubles in size.

Completing the team is Agent Sawyer (Shane West)– but you can call him Tom– of the U.S. Secret Service, because even then we didn't want to be left out if anyone was planning a war. He quickly becomes a surrogate son to Quatermain, whose greatest regret is letting his own son die in battle.

Because most viewers have some familiarity with most of the characters, the introductions can be kept to a minimum, getting us into the action quickly. At the 35-minute point we're told, "The League is set." Less than half an hour later, we learn the identities of M and a traitor within the League.

The plot is the film's weakest link, but it has enough strengths that that shouldn't matter. We see about half of Venice crumble before we're told the city has been saved. Define saved.

Economics has never made sense to me, so maybe someone can explain how the Fantom expects to profit from arms sales after "a war that will consume the planet." And assuming there's an answer to that one, it will take a lot of profit to repay the capital investment it must have taken for him to build that fortress/laboratory in Mongolia.

But how much sense does a fantasy have to make? Stick around for the inside jokes, like the introduction of Nemo's first mate and Mina's variation on Dracula's "I never drink...wine" line. And if you're wondering why Oscar Wilde's creation acts so British while showing a sexual interest only in Mina, that just adds an extra dimension when he states, "I'm complicated."

The truth is that Sean Connery is the real Dorian Gray, and the most extraordinary thing about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.