The Avengers (film)

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“An object lesson on all the things which can go very, very wrong on the journey from script to screen.”

Film-makers really need to let the sixties go, especially when it comes to mining TV schedules and turning them into movies. The Mod Squad, Thunderbirds, Wild Wild West: the remainder bins in Walmart are littered with the DVD corpses of failed attempts. While it’d be a massive stretch to call this incoherent mess anything like a success, it does have some merits, not least in the casting of Fiennes and Thurman as John Steed and Emma Peel. If undeniably different to Patrick McNee and [insert your favourite original actress here], it still works, despite the unfortunate efforts to shoehorn in a romantic relationship between the pair; one of the things that made the original series work was the lack of this, with Steed and Peel being strictly business. Thurman, in particular, appears to be working her way towards The Bride territory, with a similarly wide range of funky costumes. In that light, much of her performance makes a great deal more sense.

Sadly, very little else of the movie does, though one wonders how familiar those whose reviews ripped into it were, with the original series – things like henchmen in teddy-bear costumes would fit in there, yet seem idiotic in isolation. The version as released was hacked down from 150 minutes to 89, and I suspect much of the excised footage is in the middle, since that’s where what remains falls apart completely. Sir August de Wynter (Connery) has taken control of the weather, and is using this to blackmail the world’s governments. It’s up to our suave, sophisticated duo to stop him: Peel goes up top to defuse the controlling device, while Steed stays down low, to face de Wynter in hand-to-hand combat. This might have worked better, if I didn’t keep thinking, “Sean Connery is five years older than my Dad.” While there is more to the plot than this, it’s an aspect of the film where more cutting would likely have been welcome.

The style is nicely captured, and Peel stands as the equal of Steed, in no way secondary or subservient to him, as is shown in a marvellous sword-fight between the two. Thurman has no problem at all handling the action side of things, and we even get two Umas for the price of one, thanks to a cloning subplot which is never fully developed or explained [part of the hour left on the cutting-room floor, I suspect]. It seems that the individual pieces were all in place: however, the disaster movie which resulted [budget, $60m; US box-office, $23m] shows that the road to cinematic hell is paved with good intentions.

Dir: Jeremiah Chechik
Star: Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent

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