Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
½ star out of 4
Even after reading the pathetic excuses from the Warner Brothers spin
doctors for withholding one of the summers most anticipated films from
critics, I went into "The Avengers" hoping for the best. Maybe they
really had withheld the film so that audiences could "discover" it on
their own. Sadly, the negative buzz turned out to be true. "The Avengers"
is a strong candidate for worst movie of the year. In addition, it's
absolutely the most dreadful big screen adaptation of a TV series I have
ever witnessed, taking the ultra-stylish, clever 60's spy show and
turning into a disjointed, garish train wreck of a movie.
So what went wrong? Virtually everything. Let's start with the central
characters. As played by Patrick Macnee, John Steed was a conservative,
dapper fellow and formidable foe. His droll wit and assured smile
reflected the confidence of a consummate renaissance man. In the hands of
the usually excellent Ralph Fiennes, Steed merely seems constipated.
Wearing a smirk for most of the film, his performance is far too wispy
and tentative for a character of such substance.
As for Mrs. Peel, the results are even more painful. Diana Riggs turned
the character into the epitome of chic, combining razor sharp
intelligence, a keen sense of humor, killer fighting skills and a
devastating smoky sexuality. Uma Thurman simply hasn't a clue. While her
Mrs. Peel possesses the appropriate looks and wardrobe, everything else
is missing. More often than not, she comes off like a coy model or simply
In the series, the relationship between John Steed and Mrs. Peel simmered
beautifully. Here they kiss, effectively killing the romantic and sexual
tension the original maintained for years. Imagine if Mulder and Scully
had smooched in the first episode of "The X Files" and you'll have an
idea of the dampening effect this kiss has on the duo.
As for the legendary banter between the characters, most of the lines
here are as stilted and leaden as the scripted exchanges between Academy
Award presenters before they open the envelopes. What passes for wit is
often beyond embarrassing. The film contains a scene where Mrs. Peel
falls through a hole in the earth and plummets into the villain's lair.
When he greets her, she actually says "I thought I'd drop in." This is
humor? For God's sake, cartoons don't even use that line anymore!
Speaking of villains, the bad guy here is Sir August De Wynter (Sean
Connery, in a blustery performance), a megalomaniac bent on taking over
the world with a purloined weather-controlling machine. The plot, for
lack of a better word, involves clones, criminals dressed as bulky teddy
bears, giant mechanical bees, and enough outrageously fake looking snow,
cut-rate CGI and cheesy special effects for a dozen low budget syndicated
sci-fi TV shows (hell, even the blue screen scenes look phony).
Add a lot of big, showy sets and costumes to the aforementioned mess and
what have you got? A disaster strongly resembling last years horrible
"Batman and Robin," except that, hard is it may be to believe, this one
is even worse. Reportedly, the studio chopped a great deal of footage
from the film following disastrous test screenings, resulting in a final
90 minute version that feels like three hours.
The edit renders the comic book plot incomprehensible at times, as
characters appear and disappear from various locales for no discernible
reason. A perfect example is a scene where Mrs. Peel enters a phone booth
on the estate of her enemy and states the code words to trigger a secret
entry mechanism. How does she know the villain's code? Why is there a
phone booth in the middle of a sprawling estate? And most importantly,
how did they take a wicked good TV series and turn it into such a
Stay away from "The Avengers." Episodes of the original series are due on
video shortly and it's likely that some cable network will rerun the
series to capitalize on the publicity from this travesty. Seek out the
show and you can enjoy one of the highlights of 60's pop culture
entertainment while avoiding one of the low points of the 90's.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott