The Avengers (1998)

reviewed by
Ted Prigge

A Film Review by Ted Prigge
Copyright 1998 Ted Prigge

Director: Jeremiah Chechik Writer: Don MacPherson Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Shaw, Eddie Izzard, Eileen Atkins, John Wood, Patrick Macnee

People who know me will be surprised to discover that I've never watched a second of this show, and not at all surprised to discover that I'm dying to finally get a glimpse of it. One would think that in theory I could get a neat glimpse into what the show was like by watching a movie based on it, but such is the magic of the Hollywood machine. Unless the show is really a huge mess with a scattered, confusing plot, lots of bad puns, and only a couple cool moments...oh, and some neato fashion.

Okay, it's not that bad. But it's close. "The Avengers" is only made better if you're not a fan of the cult hit TV show from the 60s, where you'd probably be appalled if you saw what has been done with it, unless the show was really this mediocre. Since I have nothing but lots of good word of mouth about how cool the show was, I have no way of knowing how faithful it is. I just know that it made me want to see how cool the original TV show was since Hollywood doesn't exactly have a good track record with bringing TV shows to the big screen.

All I know of the show is what I know from reading and listening to fans, and what I know is this: the Avengers of the title are a pair of secret agents working for the British government with the job of stopping criminal masterminds that plague the country. While the heroines changed (the most popular being Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg), the hero, John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee), was always the same. Steed was a master of suaveness, and with his proper dress, fashionable hat, and umbrella always in hand, he was a master of the dapper...or so I'm told. Peel was just as intriguing, what with her skin-tight black leather costumes and smart babeishness, and the two had a cool sexual tension between them that never crossed the line since Peel was married anyway.

The film brings back those two, with amazing actor Ralph Fiennes playing Steed, and also amazing actress Uma Thurman playing Peel, and the film gives us an introduction to them. As like every TV show film adaptation, this film is designed to launch a franchise and a whole slew of sequels a la Batman, and like all of the spin-offs, this feels like more of a trite introduction than an actual good film, which the original "Batman" film was. We get a half-assed case to introduce the characters, and generally give us a good feel about them, but this film exacts the point that many of these films just don't care about their plots.

Here's this one: a billionaire named August de Wynter (Sean Connery, finally playing a spy-like villain) has decided to make England pay for their weather by designing a device that controls it. It's up to Steed and Peel to stop them. It's not the best plot (actually, it sounds disturbingly a lot like the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns blocks out the sun with a machine and tries to get the town of Springfield to pay for it), but it could have at least been easy to follow.

The chief complaint I have with this film is it's not done yet. I swear to god this film has scenes missing, as if some NYU student got a hold of it and cut it up a bit so that it would be less presentable. Not only do simple things, like the explanation for a second Emma Peel and the motive for August's actions, never become clear at all, but this film has gaping plot holes that cause this film to make little to no sense. Why does August's henchman (Eddie Izzard, most likely the next Dr. Who) decide to attack Steed and Peel by using giant cyberbugs with cannons on them? Beats me, but it sure annoyed me.

Actually, it's not too horrible. The film choses an interesting path to chose: instead of worrying about plot, it decides to set a certain mood. And for the first half of this film, we get to kind of just hang with Steed and Peel as they get to know eachother and flirt unsubtely. Fiennes is a terrific actor, and he pumps up the charm as high as he can get it, making Steed a wonderfully likable spy. Even an Avengers-fan/friend of mine pointed out that he was after all a great choice for playing Steed. Meanwhile Thurman isn't bad, although not as interesting as Fiennes. She just never finds the exact note for her performance. Still, the first half is fun to watch, and I was rather entertained albeit very clueless to what was going on.

By the end, though, it had begun to resemble one of the worst of the annoying TV show film adaptations, "Batman and Robin," where they had crossed from light camp into total lampooning. Both the end of "The Avengers" and the entirety of "Batman and Robin" rely on bad jokes, witless humor, and annoying and badly-executed action sequences to "carry" them. So what do we get for watching the first hour or so of this film? A boring and blessedly trite attack by Steed and Peel on the fortress of August, with a sword fight (sorta) and a whole lotta water. And following that, a rip off of the ending of a James Bond movie. Ugh.

I have to admit, though, I actually did like some of this movie. I loved Ralph Fiennes performance, and was pretty into Thurman's as well (though I suspect I'll fall in love with Diana Rigg like everyone else who saw the show did). I laughed at several of the jokes (especially August's note to the British Government: "I'll make the weather so cold that you all will have to go to hell to warm up), and appreciated that they at least let actors like the great Jim Broadbent and a hilarious, Tommy Gun yielding Eileen Atkins do some good British humor schtick. But I wouldn't reccomend it.

MY RATING (out of 4): **

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