Roundly lambasted at the time, a critical and commercial flop, and one of the great modern “turkeys” that you can sit easily beside Batman & Robin, it’s no surprise to look around and see a wealth of disparaging reviews and low ratings for this movie. What may surprise some, though those who know me may just think it symptomatic of my constantly degenerating tastebuds, is how much I actually enjoyed it during a recent rewatch. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20, perhaps it’s senility creeping in despite my relative youth or perhaps *let’s whisper it now that years have passed* it’s just genuinely not all THAT bad.
Not being a fan of the TV show, I can’t compare and contrast with the material this is based on but I do know that The Avengers (and, later on, The New Avengers) was a show that was quirky, stylish and ever-so-British. John Steed was a charming chap, wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella, who could do away with a henchman and foil any major conspiracy in the time it would take him to arch an eyebrow and make a cup of tea. His most famous colleague (arguably, at least) was Emma Peel, a sexy and intelligent equal in almost every way. As much a product of its time (the swinging 60s) as it is of its genre, The Avengers is/was an institution to many.
All this means is that director Jeremiah S. Chechik (working from a script by Don MacPherson that, for better or worse, captures some aspects of the show perfectly) had a tough gig on his hands from the very start. But it seems like the man who remade Les Diaboliques had no fear even if, perhaps, he should.
Let’s start with the minor points that, I think and hope, many will agree with. First of all, the movie has perfect casting for it’s lead characters. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as unflappable, stiff-upper-lipped, John Steed. And if anyone can portray a strong, sexy and feisty woman it’s Uma Thurman so she’s also great as Dr. Emma Peel, complete with plumy English accent that may not stay pitch-perfect but remains a hundred times better than many other attempts heard in blockbuster movies. Sean Connery (as Sir August de Wynter) may have spent most of his latter years simply playing Sean Connery but even that works here – it’s like watching one of those comforting detective shows on afternoon TV with a “guest appearance” by some celebrity who never used to lower themselves to TV work. With Jim Broadbent in there, Fiona Shaw and even a nice vocal cameo from Patrick Macnee (the original John Steed) it all seems to be good. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is rounded out by either anonymous faces or, more annoyingly, minor characters played by the likes of Eddie Izzard and Shaun Ryder for no discernible reason other than stunt casting because they are/were well-known to British audiences.
Secondly, I have to praise the general plot here and the fact that the big menace facing the UK in this movie comes from the weather, the most consistently talked about subject on our little cluster of islands. Once again, I hope others can agree that the big baddie gaining control of weather and using it against the country feels like the kind of small-scale-yet-epic masterplan we Brits specialise in. Cinematically speaking.
The chemistry between Fiennes and Thurman is electric and the pacing is just right as the slightly absurd plot unfolds around them (though who knows how the movie played out in its original 115-minute runtime) with nary a thought for absolute realism and sustained tension, which is all well and good because this is based on a TV show that had the same template.
Don’t see this movie if you want a straightforward, enjoyable action flick. It’s not for you even if, as is often overlooked, the action sequences are very well done when they occur. This movie is more for those who will be delighted by a boardroom meeting attended by men in giant teddy bear suits, love a man so calm and collected that he has a hot tea dispenser in his flash car, can watch laser-firing robo-bugs and don’t mind suspending disbelief to watch some justice being delivered by a kindly old woman (Eileen Atkins) who really should be sat at home with a cuppa and a scone as opposed to cycling around the countryside, armed and dangerous.
Time will tell if I am just more receptive than some or just going mad but I would definitely not mind if I was ever forced to watch The Avengers again. I didn’t love it but it’s far from the unwatchable flop that so many reviews labelled it.
DIRECTOR: JEREMIAH S. CHECHIK
CAST: RALPH FIENNES, UMA THURMAN, SEAN CONNERY, JIM BROADBENT, FIONA SHAW, EILEEN ATKINS, EDDIE IZZARD
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX