Friday, June 1, 2018

The Avengers (1998)

The Avengers (Jeremiah Chechik, 1998) "Mrs. Peel, we're needed..." and in a much better movie.

I know, not what you expected (this isn't Marvel's The Avengers (created for the comics in 1963, but the British TV series created in 1961), but, then, neither was this movie to me. "The Avengers" were a proven property, a memory (fond) of my youth, especially when it was on American television, during the height of the "Bond craze" of the 1960's. It started out in its early "video" days as a fairly straight-ahead detective procedural with Patrick Macnee as John Steed, who worked with Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), then Venus Smith (Julie Stevens), then Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman). The shows became increasingly bolder, cheekier and more in the spy realm, reaching its zenith during the "Emma Peel" years, when Diana Rigg played Steed's partner. By that time, the show was practically a comedy, with odd off-kilter conspiracies, sci-fi and fantasy elements. Most folks tuned in for the repartee, as the plots became fairly disposable; Steed and Emma became the focus of the show, he of the fusty suits and bowler hat, she of the catsuits and judo fights. It was fun, disposable, and a joy to watch.
The movie version gets only one out of the three. After years in development hell with a script by Batman scribe Sam Hamm with Mel Gibson as the proposed lead, the original ideas were scrapped and a new revised attempt was made. The blunders begin by miscasting Ralph Fiennes as Steed and Uma Thurman as Peel. Fiennes fares slightly better, but he plays Steed as withdrawn and a bit docile, whereas the Steed of the series was a proud peacock of an extrovert. Ms. Thurman's Mrs. Peel is everything the series' Rigg wasn't—pale, inexpressive and...American. As if to overcompensate for the lack of joie de vivre in the leads, the movie goes overboard with elements of goofiness in a plot about robotic clones, Teddy bear conspiracists, mechanical bees, and a plot to—dare I say it?—rule the controlling...the weather?
Sean Connery had been saying for years that he'd wanted to play a Bond villain, but knew those producers would never go for it—or pay the salary he wanted. This is the movie where he gets to, and his August DeWynter, is played hammily and with much brio. He gets the best lines and looks like he's having fun(certainly more than the audience). Fiennes looks miserable most of the time, and Thurman is mostly unreadable. There's also an interesting supporting cast, largely wasted, featuring Jim Broadbent, Fiona Shaw, John Wood, Eddie Izzard, Eileen Atkins, and a cameo by MacNee...who plays a character who's invisible. He's the lucky one in the cast.
The script—by Don McPherson—is a mess, and Jeremiah Chechik (who made National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Benny & Joon) tries to bring some style to it at the sacrifice of pace and, after the film was slashed from two hours to 90 minutes following a disastrous preview, a certain level of coherence.  It's one of the few movies where I walked out with a feeling of contempt for the whole rotten show.
"No, really, have you read this script?"
MacNee and Rigg as "The Avengers"

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