The Movie: Fans
The film's fans speak out
I am one of the few who, "no accounting for taste", found the film enjoyable. Do I think a better film could have been made using the show as a premise? Absolutely. My impression of the film is that it quite faithfully captures the tone and attitude of the Steed/Peel episodes. Ironically, I believe this is also the root of the film's problems. I can think of no single episode of the original show that would translate well if simply blown up to the silver screen - even if larger sets and some elaborate effects were added (an apt description of the film). In my opinion the filmmakers were actually too literal with their cinematic homage. They should have respectfully "recreated" the concept, and evolved the format to better suit the theatrical experience. The 60s show was a unique exercise in low-key, intimately structured surrealism. Everyone and everything in the program's invented universe was an outlandish exaggeration. Such components worked wonderfully on the tiny television set, but a current-day filmic Avengers required a rethinking of this quirky design. As with the most recent Brosnan James Bond, The Avengers, as fictional entities, could have been dropped into the middle of our real world and then successfully proceed to act out one of their adventures. Following such a premise, only Steed and Peel, and maybe the principle evildoers, would be larger-than-life. This would mean no crazy schemes, no sci-fi devices, no tongue in cheek. Only John and Emma would be stylish and superior to all other life on Earth, and only they, and we, their loving audience, would know this. All the normal humans populating the film would be consistently confused and confounded by these two dapper beings of superior charm and skill. This is what could've been, but instead we have a movie that is nothing more than a new episode of the original show, albeit with the accoutrements of a much bigger budget. Since I loved the show it only makes sense that I would like this movie. The film flopped not because it's awful, but because it is too much like the show. Current society does not have the capacity to digest such an exercise in bizarre style and dry wit. Unfortunately, those days are gone.
As an avid fan of The Avengers, I made the mistake of listening to the critics and never saw the film in theaters. In fact, it wasn't until sometime in 2001 that I finally rented the video for a dollar. What the heck, I thought, it's only a buck. As soon as I finished watching it I cursed those damn critics. Once again they had failed to understand the "spirit" in which a film had been made. Let's face it, The Avengers was a very "campy" television series and the movie was a very campy movie. But that's what makes it so fun! I loved it. I do have the feeling there was a lot of film left on the cutting room floor, though—it needed another fifteen minutes for plot development.
I've been watching the series on Encore's Mystery Channel, so last night I decided to rent the movie again. I actually enjoyed it more than the "Tara King Era" episodes that are presently showing on television. As far as casting, I thought Ralph Fiennes did well—he did look a little like Stan Laurel, but he does have style. Sean Connery needed more screen time. Uma Thurman alright as Mrs. Peel, but let's face it folks, there's only one (lustful voice) MRS. PEEEEEEL! Dianna Rigg, I love you!
The Warner Bros. movie has produced probably the greatest divide in Avengers fandom. Which side of the fence do you sit on? Was it a debacle or simply divine? Was it the worst movie in the history of celluloid, or simply misunderstood?
Well, I'd never call it divine, certainly not perfect, but I do feel The Avengers (1998) has come in for a lot of criticism that is frankly undeserved. It's not a great movie—I'll not argue with you there. It has its flaws, but has much to recommend it as an entertainment infinitely more diverting than 95% of 1990s Hollywood fare. The plot is somewhere between Steed and Mrs. Peel and James Bond, but this is not necessarily a criticism - The Avengers is very much a small screen format, and, in my opinion, needed some reinventing to work in the movies. Clearly, there are a lot of purists who think it shouldn't have inherited the supervillain, the explosions and the climactic ending from Mr. Broccoli's franchise, and perhaps they feel justified by the film's dreadful showing in theaters. Perhaps the film's detractors also feel vindicated by the slatings the film got from the critics. I have to profess to having little faith in the ability of most critics to spot a good movie, and let's face it, they're a vindictive bunch at the best of times, particularly when they've been refused a preview screening. The vicious attacks on The Avengers had more than a touch of revenge to them.
I saw the movie while on holiday with friends in San Francisco, and I have to say that I thought it was great fun. OK, so the two leads weren't Macnee and Rigg, but I never expected them to be. They were adequate at best, lacked warmth and were the movie's major problem. I cannot argue with that. But there was much that I simply loved: Joel McNeely's glorious score, the mesmeric title sequence, the deliciously observed performances from Jim Broadbent and Eileen Atkins, the intriguing vision of 'Avengersland', the breathtaking scenes of the devastated Central London, and who can forget that most marvellous of Avengersesque touches, the Teddy Bears? I know, there are probably a lot of you who wish you could forget them, but I loved them. Priceless.
However, it has to be said that no film can survive inappropriate casting, and The Avengers does suffer, it's true. I still find the film wholly watchable, most enjoyable and a perfectly acceptable continuation of The Avengers canon. It sits proudly on my DVD shelf next to A&E's series releases, and I feel no urge to hide it under the carpet! If only the studio hadn't reacted so harshly to the reactions of the preview audiences, demanding cuts that made the narrative leap about without rhyme nor reason... I for one would love to see a director's cut one day, so we can finally get the full vision of Jerry Weintraub and Jeremiah Chechik's take on Avengersland.
Without any doubt in my mind one of the most underrated films of all time, if only for the sheer degree of vitriol directed at it, The Avengers is a unique and inventive adventure film that pays due tribute to the ideals of the original show while contributing its own style and flavor as well.
The story, while no masterpiece, is certainly serviceable. I for one had no trouble following it, even with little beforehand knowledge of any kind. I guess I was most attentive at the right moments, or picked up the details better. I similarly felt no major problems with the pacing of the film, despite the studio's last-minute hack re-edit. Make no mistake, the extended version as outlined in the published screenplay is better, but this one doesn't suffer as much from its cuts as say, Dune (2 hours 17 minutes out of 5 hours of material) or Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. The film's intensity builds steadily, until by the third act the proceedings have become dreamlike, leading to an appropriately tempestuous climax.
The little touches help a lot. This film was made with lots of attention to detail- the botanical impossibilities in Sir August's garden, the teddy bear meeting (bringing new meaning to the phrase "stuffed shirts"), the plywood training ground with the participants behaving like extras on a movie set, the Escheresque maze Mrs. Peel is trapped in, the demonstrative spheres at Wonderland Weather, Mother and the Ministry hunkering down for a siege just like in the days of WWII, Bailey's spiderlike entrance to his fight with Mrs. Peel, etc.
The acting. Ah, yes. Of course, Fiennes and Thurman couldn't live up to Macnee and Rigg. We know that. Nobody could. It is the impossible task. However, taken on their own terms I think the performances are quite good. Fiennes aptly plays Steed as an agent who's seen it all and isn't surprised or fazed by anything. Ms. Thurman's Mrs. Peel—what can I say, I found her incredibly endearing. She conveys a sly wit, combined with a charming vulnerability at times. The scene where she desperately stalls her interrogation by Father with stream-of-consciousness rantings is outright touching. The chemistry between the two is quite tender. Sean Connery hams it up, but it's fun. The supporting cast is unimpeachable.
On the whole, I'd say the film quite admirably reinforces the major theme of the series: Anything can happen at any moment, and the best way to deal with it is to take it all in stride. Steed and Peel, as in the show, overcome impossible odds with a wink and a smile. This film never undercuts its own absurdity, forever believes in its own goofiness, and so paints a vivid fantasy world. It doesn't reach the same hights of coolness and occasional creepiness as the show, but it is an admirable tribute, done with dignity and love. "When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high..."
P.S. The day TV Guide says anything worthwhile about film is the same day David Cronenberg signs on for a remake of National Velvet.
Hi. I must be the world's biggest Avengers fan, because I loved the movie. Sure, it has a poor plot, but plot was never the strong point of the show, anyway. I thought the characterization was where the show was at.
So, we have new people playing the parts of Steed and Peel. I thought Fiennes and Thurman did a great job of re-creating the characters, and would love to see these two do more Avengers work. Hearing those two talk, after these many years, was just like old times.
There are those who say that Sean Connery as a bad guy didn't work. These critics are stuck on the idea of Connery being James Bond (I thought Roger Moore was a shade better). However, everything else I have seen Connery in (especially "The Untouchables") was great, and that he is a very versatile actor. Hence, I think he made a great bad guy.
Did they spend too much on special effect? I loved them. OK, I saw the movie on the small screen, as you suggested might be better. I think that works because The Avengers should be viewed in a more intimate setting than a movie theatre.
I'm not surprised that the general public may think it was a bad movie. When the show was on, I seemed to be the only one in my jr. high school that watched it (note that I lived in a redneck community). Emma is so intelligent as to scare off most men, and John has a hipness to his traditionalism that most people would have a hard time understanding. The Avengers isn't a show that appeals to the dumber 51% of us that the advertisers target, which is why I like it.
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