The Avengers (1998)

In the 1960s, a British television series, The Avengers, played and was relatively popular. It had spies and saving the world, and was relatively popular. It’s odd that an adaptation would be made in 1998, but that’s what happened here. Fans of the original series will probably not be too pleased with what has been created, while those who never saw it might have a little bit of fun with this silly and polite movie.

In case you’re going to be confused at all about tone, just think about a scene later on in the film, when Sean Connery has a meeting while dressed in a teddy bear suit while addressing other men dressed in similar suits, all of varying colors. I kid you not when I say that this is a thing that happens in this movie, and it’s absolutely hilarious. The tone is incredibly light and humorous, and it’s kind of difficult to get mad at the film because of this. It’s tough to determine where genuine faults stop and become part of the joke. Or perhaps it’s just bad, and all of this silliness isn’t intentional at all.

In our opening scene, John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) beats up a few people who try to attack him. It turns out this was all a test, as he’s a secret agent. He is paired up with Dr. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman), a scientist, in an attempt to stop Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery) from destroying the world with a weather machine. Or, it was something like that. The weather is being altered by De Wynter and the duo has to stop that from happening. Motivation beyond that is largely unimportant — something the film also believes, as it never stops to explain anything.

We essentially spend most of the film moving from set piece to set piece, action scenes to action scenes, and polite conversation over tea to … more action scenes, in all honesty. Sometimes we don’t even leave the action to have tea, as, if the movie is to be believed, it seems to be the primary activity for anyone British. If anyone has to talk to another character for more than two minutes, you can bet the tea will be out and ready for consumption.

It’s things like this that make me think The Avengers is not meant to be taken even remotely seriously. No grownup could unironically have their characters do some of these things, right? The polite dialogue fits right in to the silly tone, too. Most movies would have a character grunt or swear, while this one has proper sentences which are enunciated perfectly. There are a great deal of times where you’ll be laughing at what’s presented on-screen, and it’s either brilliance or horrible filmmaking on the part of director Jeremiah S. Chechik. Believe what you want.

A lot of people are going to compare The Avengers to the original television series. Or, they would if they’ve seen it. I hear it’s a cult series nowadays, so perhaps it has more people catching it on home video than would have seen it during its initial run. I don’t think these comparisons are necessarily fair — these people are doing their own thing with the source material, not making a continuation — but they’ll be there anyway. If you love the original series, you’re unlikely to enjoy this; if you want a silly B-movie to laugh with, perhaps it’s worth checking out.

It actually does have some decent action, and one scene in particular — in which Dr. Peel is trapped in a trap straight out of the mind of M.C. Escher — is so visually captivating that I wish it would have gone on forever. Or, at least, longer than it did. There are some standout moments in The Avengers, some of which are good because of the filmmakers’ talent while some are good because they’ll make you laugh.

If there’s one main weakness, it’s in the acting. That might sound surprising given the talent featured on-screen, but somehow all three of the actors I’ve already mentioned are dull and boring. Fiennes doesn’t so much as crack a smile, despite much of his dialogue involving one-liners shot back and forth with Uma Thurman, who is sultry but nothing more. Connery laughs a bunch because he knows he’s getting paid, but as a villain he falls flat.

The plot never really makes sense, either. I’m sure there are lots of plot holes to point out and most of the reason for everything happening makes no sense, but that’s part of the fun with these kinds of movies, isn’t it? Of course, if this sort of thing irritates you instead of making you laugh, you won’t have any fun with The Avengers, but then, you’re probably the type of cynical person who doesn’t enjoy movies like this one anyway. That, or you like good movies, which I’m not sure The Avengers is.

I’m confused by The Avengers. It’s a silly, over-the-top spy movie about a man and a woman trying to stop another man from controlling the weather and therefore the world. It’s full of terrible plotting, poor acting, a flippant and light tone, and is impossible to take seriously. But how much of this was intentional? Did the filmmakers aim to make this movie, or did it grow out of a lack of talent, time, or other reasons? I laughed a lot during The Avengers and it passed the time quickly. It wasn’t good but it was certainly watchable.

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