The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Avengers (1998)

This is nothing to do with the Marvel superheroes movie which is imminent, but rather a look back at a truly terrible film I haven't seen in years (in fact, probably not since 1998- when it first came out).

The plot, such as it is, is relatively straightforward: Ministry man John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) is paired up with Dr Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) to find out who is sabotaging the nation's weather. All signs point to Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery), eccentric weather enthusiast and thoroughly bad egg. Steed and Peel must stop de Wynter before his maniacal meterological machinations come to fruition.

Do not get me wrong; there is a lot wrong with this film (the script and some of the performances for starters). But, on rewatching it, I found myself getting into the spirit of things and ended up actually quiet enjoying myself.

Fiennes is a perfectly servicable Steed, slightly suave although lacking a real sense of charm. Thurman is admittedly pretty bad although her pairing with Fiennes works quite well. You almost believe their relationship until it takes a turn for the romantic (something the original TV show never did). Connery slices the ham incredily thick as the nominal villain but any film that has the chutzpah to put James Bond in a teddy-bear costume deserves some recognition. Which this one did; nominated for 9 Golden Raspberry Awards, it won Worst Remake or Sequel (tied with Godzilla and Psycho). It just beggars belief that there were actually worse films out in 1998 (mostly Burn Hollywood Burn!) than this godawful mess.

I'd forgotten a lot of the supporting cast so it was a surprise to see Jim Broadbent and Fiona Shaw pop up as Mother and Father respectively (heads of the Ministry); usually both of them have much more class than to appear in dreck like this, so I can only assume it was either the money or the opportunity to play against type that got them to sign on the dotted line. Similarly with Eileen Atkins who plays Ministry agent Alice (a role offered to Diana Rigg, who passed) who seems to be enjoying herself. All three turn in decent performances but are not well served by the script; more of which later. 

The biggest surprise however was that Patrick Macnee (the original Steed) pops up in a voice-only cameo as Colonel Invisible Jones. This turned out to be Macnee's final film role but it's a little bit of fun. Keeley Hawes, Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays and Eddie Izzard also pop up in minor roles, with Izzard delivering the only strong language in the film (a fact that, again, I didn't remember but was surprised at).

I've been dancing round the subject a bit, so time to stop. The script. My God, it's awful. There's no other word for it. Don MacPherson (the named screenwriter) should never again be allowed to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to even write a shopping list. The pun-tastic and innuendo-laden script could inspire its own drinking game, but all participants would be absolutely slaughtered by the second reel.  It even stops being fun or ironic after about twenty minutes. When the foundation of a film is built on sinking sand, there's not much anyone else can do to save it. It's a telling fact that MacPherson's IMDB entry records nothing else written after The Avengers.

The director, Jeremiah Chechik, has fared better, directing for TV (Chuck, Burn Notice and Warehouse 13 amongst his credits). To be fair, Chechik does well with what he has. There are several sequences which stand out- Peel's frantic chase around an Escher-inspired house is one and the opening training sequence another- whilst some of the CGI (given its age) still stands up quite well. However, the film didn't fare well at test screenings and the film was edited down from 115 minutes to 87- perhaps those missing 28 minutes actually makes sense of the whole thing? The editing looks like its been done with a blunt and rusty hacksaw which really doesn't help matters.

In conclusion; it's still an awful film. But it's not quite as awful as I remember it.


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