Should I Watch..? 'The Avengers' (1998)
What's the big deal?
The Avengers is an action spy thriller released in 1998 and is an attempted revival of the 60's TV show of the same name. It has no relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or their Avengers franchise. The film sees dapper crime fighter John Steed team up with the alluring Emma Peel in order to take down a maniacal villain. Directed by Jeremy Chechik who also directed Benny & Joon, the film was not screened for critics before release and Warner Bros. attempted to bury the picture in August - known in Hollywood as the summer dumping ground for films that are likely to disappoint. The Avengers quickly became one of the biggest box office bombs of the 90's and has since become a by-word for shoddy American adaptations of British TV shows like the equally derided The Saint. Such is its reputation that even today, the film still carries the stench of turkey.
What's it about?
John Steed is a stylish and accomplished agent with The Ministry, a British branch of military intelligence dealing with more unusual criminal activities. Steed is asked to contact a scientist named Emma Peel who is wanted in connection with the sabotage of a top-secret project known as Prospero. Peel denies any knowledge but investigates the incident alongside Steed whose first point of contact is former Ministry agent Sir August de Wynter.
They eventually link the Prospero project to de Wynter's company Wonderland Weather - who claim to be able to manipulate weather systems at will. As de Wynter publically announces his intention to hold the world hostage, Steed and Peel must act fast before lives are put at risk through thunder, lightning and hurricanes. But first, a spot of tea...
Trailer - brace yourself...
What's to like?
Being fair then I suppose the film does a good job of retaining the unique style of the show which possessed a strange sense of humour. It never once took itself seriously, allowing Steed to become an idol for Britishness - even more so than Bond - and made Diana Rigg into a cultural sex symbol for the 60's. And while Thurman looks awesome in the famous leather catsuit, Fiennes feels almost too buttoned up as Steed. If his upper lip were any stiffer, you could hang your jacket off it.
I could at least see what they were trying to do with the movie, even if it is fails spectacularly. The film maintains the unusual humour and setting, offering nice thoroughly English country houses and comically inept henchmen in the form of Izzard and Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder. Even the oft-discussed 'teddy bear board meeting' scene felt part of the movie's charm, however weird it looked.
Did I mention Uma Thurman wears a catsuit?
- Warner Bros. were horrified at the initial screening and insisted that Chechik cut several scenes from the middle of the movie, reducing the running time from 115 minutes to 89 minutes. This is partly the reason why the film is so incoherent.
- According to one source, the film was pre-screened in Phoenix, Arizona where the audience was mainly made up of working-class, Spanish-speaking people. Unsurprisingly, they hated the film which made Warner Bros. even more nervous about releasing it.
- Patrick Macnee, who has a voice cameo as fellow agent Invisible Jones, starred in the original series as Steed. This would become the final cinema release of Macnee's career.
What's not to like?
However, this movie is a complete disaster in every other way imaginable. The entire cast look either bored or bamboozled by proceedings which, by happy coincidence, was the look I had on my face during the film. The exception is Connery who is clearly loving the fact that he's finally getting to play a baddie by hamming it up like a celtic Burt Reynolds. Due to the fairly sizable chunk of material edited out of the film, there is almost nothing left to explain what the hell is going on. It goes from being a bit odd to downright insane, turning what should have been an interesting experience into your typically ill-thought-out action blockbuster on acid. What were the chances that the very first person they speak to in the investigation was the very man they sought? What was the deal with the mechanical bees? Why was everyone in that board meeting dressed in teddy bear costumes, including Connery? Who thought this would work as a film? So many unanswered questions!
Maybe the missing material will surface one day and maybe a director's cut might make a bit more sense. But frankly, if the missing material turned out to be Thurman pole-dancing for half an hour, I still wouldn't be interested in The Avengers. It encapsulates everything that was wrong with Hollywood thinking it knew best and of all the remakes of TV shows as movies (Charlie's Angels, Bewitched, The A-Team, The Dukes Of Hazzard, Lost In Space, The Saint, etc), this is the worst. Even loyal fans of the show would find themselves severely tested by this hideous, clunking misfire.
Should I watch it?
I've had more fun at the dentist although maybe some of that guy's knockout gas might make this movie more appealing. It's a certifiable turkey which is deficient in terms of entertainment, tension, story, acting, direction, editing, soundtrack and logic. The costumes look nice but is that really the reason to watch any film? The Avengers thoroughly deserves to be forgotten about now that Marvel have appropriated the name except by film-makers eager to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Great For: forgiving fans of Uma Thurman
Not So Great For: fans of the TV show, lazy Hollywood producers, human beings, you
What else should I watch?
Grass growing, paint drying and an obscure eight-hour documentary about Mongolian yak herdsmen called Taiga are all better options than The Avengers which is stupid, incoherent, boring and hopeless. Don't believe me? How about watching someone else play Candy Crush Saga for the film's duration? At least there are more animated characters in that than there are in this film.
There are literally thousands of films that are better than this, although there are still some which are worse. The laws of chance, however, suggest that you'll pick a better one and I shall not insult your intelligence by telling you which ones. You have eyes and ears, you can figure it out yourself.
Dr. Emma Peel
Sir August de Wynter
Don MacPherson *
Release Date (UK)
14th August, 1998
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Fiennes), Worst Actress (Thurman), Worst Screen Couple (Fiennes & Thurman), Worst Supporting Actor (Connery), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Original Song ("Storm")
© 2015 Benjamin Cox