The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse
Fun for fans, incomprehensible for the inexperienced.
The League of Gentleman is technically the collective noun for Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith (also Jeremy Dyson, but he doesn't get quite the same exposure) but to most casual observers the term brings to mind the bizarre inhabitants of Royston Vasey created for their eponymous television series. A film full of these characters seemed an odd idea, after all it's barely the sort of humour that lends itself to telly let alone the silver screen. Perhaps a shade disappointingly, the results of their labours will delight fans of the series but will prove utterly impenetrable to newcomers.
Something of a post modern one, this. The town of Royston Vasey is facing signs of it's doom. Meteors are falling from the sky, lightning strikes are destroying statues and giraffes are spunking over old women. The only hope is to pass through a mysterious door in the basement of the church to convince their creators to grant them a reprieve. The first attempt of the oddball Papa Lazarou and the downright bizarre local shopkeepers Edward and Tubbs didn't turn out so well, so the marginally more conventional trio of double entendre spurting Herr Lipp, habitual loser Geoff Tibbs and freshly escaped demon butcher Hilary Briss enter our world to convince the League of Gentlemen to continue writing material and hence continue their existence.
The Gents have their own plans on what they should be doing, working on a sixteenth century fantasy drama called The King's Evil concerning a diabolical plot to unseat the King (Bernard Hill) involving the sorcery of Doctor Pee (David Warner) and his poisonous Harryhausen-esque stop-motion homunculus.
These strands tie together through methods that make as much sense as you might expect something so abstract to make. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you've made the unwitting assumption of a conventional narrative you'll be sorely disappointed. And somewhat bewildered. The issues to be taken with LoG'sA(courtesy unwieldy acronyms 'r' us) stem not from what it does, but rather what it doesn't.
Fair enough, The League have never made exposition a feature of their work, but it seems something of an arrogance not to hint at least at why what's unfolding might be amusing. Apart from the initial shock there's not much to indicate that a blacked up fella with a weird accent calling everyone 'Dave' might be funny. Essentially the assumption is that you're familiar enough with the source material to allow them to elaborate from the get go. While this might not prove much of a hindrance should the source be the bible, pulling the same trick with something as willfully niche as The League of Gentlemen would seem to make little commercial sense.
Sorry to labour the point, but if you know nothing about this business this really ain't the place to start. Might we instead recommend the recently released box set instead? If you're still chuckling by the end of the increasingly left of field third series then by all means give this a bash.
Right, now we've got rid of the uninitiated I'll get to the gory details. Not a great deal of this film is laugh out loud funny, but neither was much of the telly series, especially towards the close of series 3. In my opinion anyway. You are of course entitled to differ, just please do not inform me of such differences. Pains are taken to hit some of the staple gags early doors; Mickey being dim, Lipp getting the first of many sexually suspect statements, Chinnery being rubbish with animals, Papa Lazarou calling people 'Dave' whom are not named Dave. There's enough of these moments throughout to reassure you that you are indeed watching a comedy, but the genius of the Gent's work has always been the moments between laughs when you realise how disarmingly black it has become.
The film doesn't have that so much by it's very nature. When the characters themselves realise they are unwitting players of a script suddenly Briss' mystery meat pies loose some of their delicious, tangy impact. Other things replace it, like the odd sense of dignity Lipp carries himself with after finding out he's a one dimensional cheap gag. His interaction with Pemberton's real life fictional family (man, post-modernism is messy) is even quite touching. Character development, eh? Who'd have thunk it?
So, not your father's League then. The new settings and characters are mixed with enough of a last hurrah for Royston Vasey to provide a fitting conclusion, again assuming this isn't also your introduction to them. While never less than entertaining on a purely personal basis, it's willful disregard of anyone not au fait with it's subjects is little short of criminal and must count against it in the final, largely irrelevant numerical reckoning. Oh, and more Papa Lazarou was quite clearly required.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 DaveMarks.
Steve Pemberton (Tubbs/Pauline/Herr Wolf Lipp)
Reece Shearsmith (Edward/Papa Lazarou/Geoff Tipps)
Bernard Hill (The King)
David Warner (Doctor Pee)