Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE AVENGERS (1998)

NO!  No kissing!  You're supposed to be British!
"A man with an umbrella is a man praying for rain."
"And a man without one in a fool. Never trust the weather, Sir August."

1) Ralph Fiennes was born to play a modern John Steed. From the first moment's walk through the British Village O' Danger to the last scene's champagne toast, Fiennes channels the same sort of calm and controlled charm that Patrick MacNee exemplified in the television series.

2) However, Uma Thurman is...not very good. It's obvious she's trying hard to capture the same sort of sophisticated sex appeal (Or 'man appeal,' which is how Emma Peel got her name), but we never get anything more than the sense that she's a girl playing dress up. Sure, she looks swell in some of the outfits, and there is a degree of chemistry between her and Fiennes, but she never clicks as Emma. One wonders if originally cast Nicole Kidman could have done better.

3) There are two fundamental problems with the film as a whole--and they're both sort of clashing with each other. Primarily, there is the fact that this is a film based on a property whose sole attraction to many of its fans is its inherent Britishness...and yet, distinctly American tropes are being imposed on this very British thing. Thus, the whole 'there's a mole in The Ministry' subplot and, more importantly, the overt romance between Steed and Peel feels very, very out of place. Hell, the big kiss in Act Three practically screams out how wrong it is in the context of what came before it.

4) But arguably a bigger problem is that director Jeremiah S. Chechik obviously loves the television series a lot--so much so that he painstakingly retains so many of the quirky elements of the series, not realizing that what we're able to accept in forty-five minute doses (street scenes totally devoid of people; a determination not to place the locations in any sort of context save for when absolutely necessary; set pieces for no reason except that they're set pieces) can seem strange and bizarre in a ninety-minute dose. In making the film seem like an episode of the regular series writ large, Chechik ends up making the film impenetrable to anyone not intimately familiar with the source material.

5) cast Eddie Izzard, an incredibly talented comedic actor with a wonderful voice...and you stick him in a role that maybe amounts to ten minutes and one line (said line being 'Oh, Fuck')? Really, movie? Really?

"I Keel You!  I Keel You!"
6) The story goes that Chechik's original cut was two hours and change, and Warner Brothers insisted that he cut the film down to its extant 88 minutes. I do have to wonder if that extreme editing job is the reason the film is riddled with continuity problems where characters appear and disappear at will.

7) I know a lot of people loathe Sean Connery's turn as main villain Sir August deWynther...I rather like him. It's obvious that Connery is having a ball playing a mad scientist who thinks nothing of dressing his employees up in teddy bear outfits. I just wish they concentrated him as a meteorologist and not decided to make him an all-purpose crazy scientist who also cloned Emma Peel as an act of obsession, as that element just muddies the water.

"All those in favor of recategorizing Fuzzy Wuzzy as
not Fuzzy say 'Aye."
8) It's odd that Chechik included the element of Mother and Father, who were more integral to the series' last season, features of the at the time very, very inexperienced Linda Thorson as Tara King (Yes, I know Mother was introduced in the last episode of the Emma Peel run, but that episode was pretty much a pilot for the King run, so....). Yes, I understand that it was so we could have Father be a traitor in one of those uniquely American elements I was talking about, but it still comes off as odd.

9) You gotta give Chechik credit for finding a way to give us a Patrick MacNee cameo in such a way that he interacts with Fiennis while not overshadowing him. Hell, MacNee's scene as Colonel Jones is one of those elements that feels the most like the television series.

10) Maybe because of the aforementioned editing job, there are long stretches where the individual scenes themselves work in and of themselves, but they make no sense narratively when strung together.

Overall...a real mess that, truth be told, I still find pretty entertaining at times...only to be brought down by some of the choices made that were obviously designed to net Warner Brothers a big budget franchise. Pity we'll never know whether to put the blame at the feet of Chechik or the producers....

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