It’s April 25th. It’s one year since The Film Dump was birthed onto the interwebs and so I have decided it would be appropriate to review something special. A film people will remember for years… for being a great big pile of balls. Yes, The Avengers is a terrible, terrible film. Shame cos the 60s TV series it was based on should have been easy to translate onto film. What? You thought I meant The Avengers as in Marvel’s The Avengers with Iron Guy and Captain Superman and all that? Oh, sorry.
If you’re looking for my review of Marvel’s the Avengers then click here. Or just got to the next review up…
So, with that confusion pushed to one side let’s discuss the film at hand. The Avengers is a film based off a pretty fun 60s spy series of the same name. It starred Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg (Meow) as chalk and cheese secret agents John Steed and Emma Peel. The core premise, of the original few series at least, was that Steed was a old fashion British agent, very posh and cultured, whilst Peel was a more modern representation of 60s Britain. She was daring, outgoing, flirtatious and looked amazing in a leather catsuit. This 1998 film adaptation stars Ralph “don’t call Ralph” Fiennes as John Steed, an old fashioned British agent, and Uma “lowest point in her career” Thurman as Emma Peel, An old fashioned weather machine scientist/inventor who’s all posh and stuff and occasionally a little flirty. So yeah, there goes that dynamic.
See part of the charm of the original series was that Peel was always testing Steed’s patience and his limits of what he could accept as civilised behaviour. It’s not that Emma Peel was a common as muck trollop or anything, quite the opposite, but she was free thinking and ahead of the cultural curve when compared to Steed. Imagine it as being like the relationship between a stuck in his ways father to his very modern daughter. But they got on, had adventures and gradually Steed came to understand who she was. Here the characters are near identical in their mannerisms with the exception that Uma’s Peel does occasionally do things just to test people. The height of her rebellion comes in a shocking scene where she, despite being told not to, eats one of Ministry Boss Mother’s (Jim Broadbent) macaroons. OH THE HORROR!!!! The way peel and Steed interact over the course of this film will test every last nerve in your body.
The story focuses on … well it’s something to do with weather. Emma Peel created some weather control thing and then she steals it, only it’s not her and so she’s called up by secret organisation The Ministry to to help Steed discover who’s behind it… despite being the prime suspect… and then stuff and weather and Sean Connery gets a bit rapey. Stuff… balloons… is that a clone? They never say. Did they know Connery was the bad guy, they didn’t seem to but then he is in that same scene. More stuff happens. I really don’t know what’s going on. I watched this film around 2 hours before writing this and I’m struggling to piece the films plot together in my head. I’m not sure if stuff was cut or if it was just this poorly written and directed. My judgement says it’s a little of both.
As the film progresses plot elements come and go on a whim. Story threads are dropped entirely. Scenes of pure absurdity are presented to us frequently, such as the bad guys all dressed as teddy bears for a secret meeting. One major plot thread is never explained in the slightest. See Emma peel has a doppelgänger going about being all evil and stuff. Well I say evil, she knocks a few people out and says nothing. You’d think this would be important, it’s a source of occasional conflict for Steed and Peel as he’s not sure if he’s with the real Emma or not. Except that it doesn’t bother him 30 seconds later and he carries on as if that was never an issue. This faux Emma Peel is never explained. A mystery, in a spy film, is never approached. I don’t even think they mention cloning or anything like that. Sean Connery’s character Sir August De Wynter (Gee think he likes weather much?) has some sort of obsession with Emma Peel and I guess that’s why he has a double of her but why the obsession? Never explained either. Or hinted at. He has a painting of her in his room. So there’s that. At one point he drugs the real Emma and, well, he pretty much gets ready to rape her semi conscious body. Family entertainment everybody! Speaking of family entertainment this exchange occurs between Wynter and Peel:
Wynter: “Nothing beats a good lashing, take India, you can have a good ten inches over there. You know, one should never fear being wet.”
Family entertainment folks!!!
As I said I think that this films problems aren’t entirely down to some sort of studio sanctioned hacking. There’s so many continuity errors in this film that it comes close to matching Titanic 2. Even the very first few shots contain one. As the film starts, well after a 3 minute title sequence, we see Steed taking a stroll down a village road. He stops for a moment and then sidesteps to avoid a falling plant pot. He then picks off a small flower from it and walks off. Leaving nothing behind. There is no plant pot there. The script calls for him to interact with an object and it vanishes in the very next shot. How does that even happen? It’s in the script that it is right there. Could they not look back one line? Later one of the most face palmingly obvious continuity errors on film occurs. It’s one of those ones that subconsciously you’re so aware of happening in films that when it does happen you see it. I’ll post two screens from the scene in question, see if you can spot what happened.
To add to this there’s the old Chess board facing the wrong way. Technology that doesn’t act as it should. Snow being on the face of a dead body before his mask is removed. Objects shifting between shots. I know a lot of these things can happen even in the best films, just look at the reflection in the window behind Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino as Thao is fixing a roof in the rain for example, but when errors happen consistently from one scene to the next you have to question just how much effort was really being put in. On top of all these errors the film features some near amateurish ADR. ADR, for those that don’t know, is when the actors record dialogue in a studio after the scene has been filmed. Usually this is used when a shot maybe had poor sound quality due to outside interference or maybe a line needed a subtle change. Most people are unaware that such a process even exists because largely it is invisible. There is a scene in The Avengers when Wynter says “One million dollars” but his mouth clearly says pounds. It’s that weak. The ADR is out of synch at times, recorded at an improper volume at others. The sound design in general is messy. This film cost $60 million to make. These days that would be closer to $100 million and they couldn’t get the ADR right.
I’m going to use a description for this film that some of you may have seen me use before on other films, those being Troll 2 and Ninja Terminator. For those films I meant it as a compliment because the films were a perfect storm of awful that in the end create something fun and memorable. This film is broken in every way, not a single scene or sequence goes by without something being mishandled or being plain wrong. What makes this mess of badness different to the aforementioned Troll 2 and Ninja Terminator is that this film is not fun and it is not memorable. It is not by any means the worst film I have ever seen, it’s not even the worst film I’ve reviewed on here (Stand up and take a bow Titanic 2!) but it is an absolute messy atrocity.
Does anything work? Well sort of. I don’t mind Ralph Fiennes being cast as Steed. He’s very old money by nature and so he fits into the role of Steed perfectly. He just has nothing to work with. No real conflict to butt heads with his co-star over. He displays no real sense of impending doom to show as he is constantly cool under pressure. He’s not miscast but is misdirected and stuck in a mess of a film. Original John Steed Patrick Macnee makes a vocal cameo as an invisible agent, who surprisingly is explained. It’s a nice touch in a sense. I don’t even mind the idea of Uma Thurman as Emma Peel, except for the terribly forced English accent. It’s kind of amazing just how much they messed up this film because The Avengers should be easy to get right. It’s such a basic and fun premise that I’m actually amazed that it was possible to mess up. I really hope that some day a new TV series is made to try to wash the bad stink off the franchise that this film left.
I haven’t even talked about how this film portrays Britain in this review yet. I know from time to time we Brits will let Hollywood use a few silly stereotypes because it gives their core US market a few chuckles. This film though I cannot allow such a pass. It’s like an American who had never been to Britain was told to give the script the once over and make it more British and his answer to that request was to put something allegedly British in every scene. They play chess, they fence, they drink copious amounts of tea. They even drink tea whilst driving a Bentley! I’m not sure how this would play to an American but as a Brit it’s so frigging painful. It would be the equivalent of a British director making a film in the US where all the cops ate doughnuts whilst every other character shot guns while drinking Gatorade and eating cheeseburgers. In every bloody scene.
Basically never put yourself through this film if you can avoid it. I like a bad film as much as the next guy, and if you’re reading this then you are the next guy. I strongly believe that you can learn a lot from a bad film. A lot of what not to do. If you must learn what not to do then at least watch a bad film that’s fun. Watch Plan 9 From Outer Space or, as I mentioned many times already, Ninja Terminator. No film will teach you more about how not to shoot a film than Ninja Terminator. Whatever you do just don’t watch this. If you really really feel like watching a film called the Avengers though go see the Marvel one, as I will be on Friday. My review for Marvel’s The Avengers will be up Friday night!