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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Avengers (1998)



Reviews and Comments

The film remake of the television show The Avengers had lots of promise. It stars Ralph Fiennes as John Steed, Uma Thurman as Emma Peel, and Sean Connery as the villain. This is inspired casting; alas, the director didn't edit their performances together very well. The cast has all the right attitudes and voice inflections that recall the light demeanor of the original series -- yet a few scenes seem forced and obviously scripted.

The movie was a critical and commercial flop. I went into the movie expecting the worst and emerged pleasantly surprised that it wasn't terrible -- just hollow. The twisted production design, the aforementioned light demeanor, the surreal sets, the dreamlike supporting cast -- all staples of the original show -- are present here in all their glory. When watching Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel, one should never feel that it's anything but a dream. Telephone booths are supposed to be situated in clumps of trees in the middle of nowhere. Hallways are supposed to wrap around on themselves. Tea comes first; the world comes second. Although several scenes suffer from poor staging, the movie does accomplish that much.

One of the reasons, I think, why the film failed to go over well with modern audiences is that it's very much a product of the TV show from the sixties. It was made, perhaps, with sixties' audiences in mind. I read one critic's review which stated that the movie might have worked in the sixties but doesn't now. I don't understand or accept that criticism. If a movie is good, for whatever reason, it's up to the audience to meet it on its own terms and experience what it has to say on its own terms. If nineties' audiences are not culturally prepared to accept The Avengers, it's hardly the movie's fault.

But the movie does suffer from other shortcomings that cripple it. As I said before, it's hollow. The movie has the television show's look down pat, but it lacks a heart. Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel are no more familiar to us after the movie than they are at the beginning. They're too dreamlike, to the point of being intangible. As such, the film is devoid of suspense -- and it doesn't help that the final act is unimaginative. Without a heart to give the movie purpose and focus, the triumph of production design is a weak victory. The movie failed to stay with me very long.