Johnny Depp vs. Jack the Ripper. Which one do you root for?
Not many comic book films have an R rating. They’re generally made for an audience that includes older children, which means they usually have plenty of violence but very little blood. Whereas this one, as one might reasonably expect given its subject, has blood enough for a slasher film.
But this is no kill- teenagers- during- sex- until- only- one- girl- is- left formula gorefest. The story is by Alan Moore, one of the most respected and original writers in comicdom. And his version of the Jack the Ripper story makes a grippingly plausible case for how it really could have been a conspiracy involving the royal family, as some have suspected in real life. (It was probably the extensive Victorian research Moore did for this story that later led him to write The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a more lighthearted — and lightweight — visit to the same era.) The screenplay is refreshingly low on Hollywoodian predictability.
Depp plays a police inspector with an opium habit, who while stoned has clairvoyant visions that help him solve crimes. But the supernatural element of the story is a very minor aspect, and not much would have changed if it had been left out. As a result, the film is only tenuously connected to the others on this site, and belongs here mostly just because of the connection with Moore’s other work, which does involve superheroes. (Moore, by the way, sneers at how the movie turns Depp’s character into an “absinthe-swigging dandy.”)
What one thinks of Johnny Depp may make a big difference in how much one appreciates this film. If you can’t stand his eccentric performance style, it may go a long way towards spoiling the film for you. If you’re a fan, he may be mesmerizing. As a fence-sitter on the Depp question, who thinks he has done fine work sometimes, I’ll just say that this is definitely not one of his better performances. In fact, his work here seemed sloppy and lazy to me — the character comes out far closer to Captain Jack Sparrow than to, say, Constable Icabod Crane. And that is the film’s greatest weakness. But the supporting cast is sterling, with fine performances in many roles, from the likes of Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane.