The Avengers (1998)

reviewed by
"Average Joe" Barlow


                                The Avengers
                    A movie review by "Average Joe" Barlow
                             (c) Copyright 1998
STARRING:   Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery
DIRECTOR:   Jeremiah Chechik
WRITER:     Don MacPherson
RATED/YEAR: PG-13/1998

If you think about it, movies are a lot like animals. "Saving Private Ryan" is definitely a cat: it stretches out comfortably on the couch and looks at you with cool indifference. It yawns occasionally. It doesn't like to be touched, because warm, caring relationships are too stifling for its lifestyle. It's not the least bit interested in who you are, as long as you feed it. "The Avengers," on the other hand, is a frisky little puppy. It nips playfully at your heels, races all around the house, and piddles excitedly on the rug. It desperately wants to please you, because it loves you unconditionally. It begs you to play with it, and will happily lick your face for an hour before dashing off to chew your shoes. Never before has a movie so horrid been so wonderful. During a summer dominated by extremely long and pretentious films, it's a great joy to watch a fairly brief movie that not only knows it's bad, but takes great delight in the fact. Ralph Fiennes stars as John Steed, a British secret agent who works for an organization known only as The Ministry. He's a mild- mannered but undeniably dapper chap, never without his umbrella, bowler hat, or smirk. He does a fine job of protecting London, as long as it doesn't interfere with his tea-time. Uma Thurman is Dr. Emma Peel, a beautiful, brilliant scientist who has been framed for a crime she claims she didn't commit. She's sexy, tough, and somehow manages to consume as much tea as Steed does. The Ministry orders Steed to help her clear her name, and the two are off. Sean Connery is Sir August De Wynter, a supervillain who's evil only because the script says so. He's just as brilliant as our heroes but dresses better (check out his lovely color-coordinated kilts, for instance). He will not rest until he's taken over the world... except to drink lots of tea, of course. Thus do we have our movie. What else can be said? The film, like the television show of the same name, is pure camp. (One of the action sequences involve Steed and Peel chasing a flock of life-size, rainbow-colored teddy bears through the streets of London.) The dialogue alternates between horrible puns and failed attempts to make the characters seem witty. An actual scene from the movie (paraphrased):

        
         STEED: Alas, poor Teddy.
         PEEL: I knew him, Steed.
         
         STEED: Looks like the teddy bears are having a picnic,
                Mrs. Peel.  We must be on the right track.

Your reaction to the above paragraph will tell you whether or not you should see "The Avengers." If you groaned and buried your head in your hands, stay away. If you thought it was witty, brilliant dialogue, seek professional help immediately. But if you groaned and rolled your eyes but nonetheless got a goofy grin on your face for a moment or two, this film may be your cup of (ahem) tea. Why? After all the negative things I've said about the movie, how can I possibly recommend it? Simple: it's a lot of fun. Fiennes, Thurman and Connery are clearly having a good time, and their goofy enthusiasm is contagious. Connery imparticular is wonderful, throwing his considerable acting talent into a brainless role. He's the most memorable "screen meanie" we've seen all summer, and the fact that he actually manages to deliver his cornball dialogue with a straight face makes me respect him even more. There are some nice directorial touches as well; at one point, Peel finds herself trapped in an Escher-esque labyrinth... the sort of place where stairways lead nowhere, and walking through a doorway takes you back into the room you just left. I found this to be quite an impressive sequence (I remember thinking, "She's trapped in the maze from ZORK I!"). Some other shots are also memorable: look for the lovely camera pan across the "snowglobe table" in Connery's house. Sure, there are some fairly substantial problems with the film: a subplot involving clones is never really resolved, the final confron- tation between heroes and villain is extremely unsatisfying, Uma's British accent comes and goes, and one of the film's action sequences is a none-too-subtle (but less-effective) reworking of the speeder bike chase from "Return of the Jedi." In addition, the movie contains what is possibly the highest numbers of continuity errors ever captured in a film (something I frequently don't notice). But none of that matters; indeed, I wonder if some of the above was intentional, to add to the camp feel. Director Jeremiah Checkhik remains faithful to the feel of the television series in many other subtle ways as well. The hairstyles, clothes, and cars are all straight out of the sixties, for example. These items were so subtly integrated into the movie that I didn't even notice them until the film was halfway over. The interplay between the characters is also well-done. The sexual tension between Steed and Peel is not only present, but often very humorous. (Steed at one point suggests to Dr. Peel that they call each other by less formal names. She reluctantly makes a concession: "Very well. You may call me *Mrs.* Peel.") I've no doubt sealed my fate as a film critic: not only did I pan "Saving Private Ryan" while raving about "Halloween: H20," but I've just recommended a movie which is, by my own admission, pretty bad. But when a film is this much fun, friends, "bad" is no reason not to attend. The lynch mob starts over there. Tea, anyone?

                  RATING: 3.5 stars (out of a possible five)

This review was written August 17, 1998. Copyright (c) 1998 by Joe Barlow. This review may be freely distributed as long as ABSOLUTELY NO CHANGES are made and this disclaimer remains attached. It may not be reproduced for profit without the written consent of the author. If you have comments or questions, please send them to: jbarlow at earthling dot net (substituting the appropriate symbols, to discourage spam).

----- "Average Joe" Barlow * MiSTie #73097 * Writer/musician/aspiring filmmaker jbarlow@YOURearthling.PANTSnet http://www.ipass.net/~jbarlow {Remove YOUR PANTS to e-mail me.}

        The latest movie reviews on my website include "Saving Private
                  Ryan," "Snake Eyes" and "Halloween: H20"
    I was touched by that, especially the part where Rick mutters, "My
          God, it's full of the usual suspects!"  --Bill Livingston

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