The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse Review
If you've never seen The League Of Gentleman on television, it's a bit like Monty Python but with recurring characters and a lot more leeway in terms of what they can get away with. The comedy is set in the isolated village of Royston Vasey, which is populated exclusively by eccentrics, lunatics and weirdos. These are played, under heavy make-up, by three of the show's creators - Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith - who also play themselves in the film. The fourth creator, Jeremy Dyson sticks to writing and he's played here by Michael Sheen. The humour is a Pythonesque mixture of the absurdist, the grotesque, the satirical and the childishly smutty.
I hadn't seen the programme before I watched The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse so I wasn't sure what I was letting myself in for. Generally, when a comedy show is as popular with students as this one is, I find myself watching it with a blank expression, wondering what the hell everyone is laughing at. Vic Reeves comes to mind. Besides, whatever the merits of the show, British comedy doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to film adaptations. Sure, some of the Python movies are brilliant but then there was that tidal wave of awful sitcom movies that hit British cinemas in the 1970s after On The Buses broke box office records. Our film industry never recovered.
Thankfully The League Of Gentleman's Apocalypse is more Monty Python than Are You Being Served. It's funny and it stands on its own as a feature film. It might not be up there with Holy Grail or Life Of Brian but it bears comparison to the spottier Meaning Of Life. If you imagine a movie with the humour of Meaning Of Life and the plot of Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero, you wouldn't be far off the mark. There's even a pleasing touch of Terry Gilliam in the ending.
The story concerns fearful omens that have been appearing in Royston Vasey - fireballs falling from the sky and a giraffe ejaculating. These events fulfil prophecies etched in the crypt of the village church. They are signs of an imminent apocalypse. There's also a mysterious door in the crypt which leads into a parallel universe - one where Royston Vasey and its inhabitants are fictional characters in a comedy programme called The League Of Gentlemen. The villagers deduce that the destruction of their town is linked to the cancellation of that programme. They discover the names of the writers behind it and dispatch a team into the parallel universe to convince them to carry on writing it by any means necessary.
The idea of fictional characters entering the real world is not an original one. Still, The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse does a lot more with it than Last Action Hero ever did and comes up with some nifty twists. Halfway through, the film goes off on a clever tangent into another story altogether and this dovetails quite nicely back into the main plotline. Touches like this make the movie interesting and fun to watch whether or not you find the League's characters appealing.
I liked some of them. I loved Geoff Tipps (Reece Shearsmith), the blustering northern stereotype who, when he is captured by a group of effeminate men in wigs, whimpers that he doesn't want to be bummed. Herr Lipp (Steve Pemberton), a double entendre-spouting German homosexual also earned some big laughs from me. His character is the most sympathetic. Lipp's wounded indignation when he learns his life has been controlled by others is strangely touching.
Others I wasn't so sure about. Popular characters from the programme like Edward, Tubbs and Papa Lazarou pop up from time to time, without any explanation of who they are or why they're supposed to be funny. The movie does assume you've seen the TV show and if you haven't, you can expect to do a certain amount of head-scratching while everyone else is laughing uproariously. The opening sequence is the most alienating for non-fans, a major miscalculation on the part of the writers.
While the League shares some of the strengths of Monty Python, including an impressive verbal wit, it also has some of its weaknesses. It's self-indulgent. In between the moments of comic genius, there are long, dead stretches. There's too much grotesquerie. The characters are so repellent to look at that I found myself cringing from them at times when I should have been laughing. The schoolboy humour is overdone. Not that I don't enjoy filthy jokes but after There's Something About Mary, the American Pie films and their countless, dire imitations, showers of giraffe semen seem more and more like a lazy substitute for humour.
Despite these flaws, The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse is a pretty successful film adaptation and one of the better British comedies of recent years. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay it is that I've since gone out and bought series one of the TV show on DVD. The first couple of episodes confirm my opinion of the film - the League is wildly uneven but clever enough and funny enough in places to be worthwhile. You don't even have to be a student to enjoy it.