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The Avengers

out of 4 Movie Review: The Avengers

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Rated: PG
RunTime: 83 Minutes
Release Date: August 1998
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Shaw, Eddie Izzard, Eileen Atkins, John Wood, Patrick Macnee

Review by Walter Frith
½ star out of 4

What an enigma. It's 89 minutes of my life that I can't get back. I just can't figure out how such a skillful pair of performers like Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman can let themselves be a part of such a mess like 'The Avengers'. Even a veteran like Sean Connery looks awkward in this film and let's face it, has Connery had a really GOOD film since 1990's 'The Hunt for Red October'? Connery has made some bad decisions as an actor like appearing in that horrible 'Highlander' sequel in 1991, and now that I think of it, I wasn't that impressed with the first 'Highlander' movie in 1986 but such films like 1992's 'Medicine Man', 1993's 'Rising Sun' and 1995's 'Just Cause' all had potential but looked more like they were cranked out in the usual Hollywood fashion in the fast food section of motion pictures.

Warner Brothers refused to show the movie to critics a short time ago before its major release and for good reason! Of course, the usual corporate line to put a spin on things, as voiced by one Warner executive was that the reason why there was no previews beforehand was because Warner Bros. was afraid that critics would compare it to other films and to the original t.v. series. Ha, ha, ha! What an insult to people's intelligence. Ok, so I'll never work THERE.

Beginning with opening scenes that are relatively entertaining (the first ten minutes had me watching hopefully), 'The Avengers' quickly dissolves into another formula comic book style movie with lavish sets, impressive costume designs and other forms of eye candy that can't hide the fact that the film doesn't know which direction it's going in because it doesn't know where it's been. It's an abstract form of so-called entertainment that wallows in the excessive boredom seen last year in 'Batman and Robin' where an abysmal script and wooden direction ticked off even the casual movie fan.

This big screen version of 'The Avengers' is based on the television series from the 1960's which starred Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. The series ran from 1961 to 1968 and Rigg came in in 1966. Prior to that it was Honor Blackman who starred along with Macnee. In this version, John Steed (Fiennes) and Dr. (Mrs.) Emma Peel (Thurman) are two highly skilled British secret agents who are introduced to each other and are given an assignment to work on a case involving the manipulation of the world's weather. Snow storms, twisters, warm weather, rain, lightening and thunder are all present right behind each other in bizarre fashion controlled by a mad scientist named Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery). de Wynter's plot is to manipulate the governments of the world into buying his weather, presumably the safe and normal kind and if not, he says hundreds of millions will drown, burn, freeze etc.

Director Jeremiah S. Chechik ('Benny and Joon', 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation') doesn't know what he's doing here. He has no idea where to take a movie and how to distinguish his characters from each other and throw in his version of sub text like any creative director would. Screenwriter Don MacPherson's dialogue is pompous in an annoying sort of way and his story development is about as slow as opening a can of food with a manual can opener rather than by using an electrical one.

What's really disappointing about this version is the performance of Uma Thurman as Peel. In many ways, she sounds a lot like her Poison Ivy character from 'Batman and Robin'. In fact, if you were to blindfold even the most high brow critic, it is my belief that he or she would have a hard time distinguishing between the two characters.

Fiennes is wooden and his showdown with Connery in the film's climax is laughably short, predictable and badly edited. Every character in this movie looks like they're reading their lines from cue cards. The film's continuity is also scattershot. In a freezing blizzard, Steed and Peel are speaking to each other and they aren't shivering and their warm breath in contrast to the cold air isn't even visible! One shot has Steed taking off his hat which is covered with fake snow, and it looks fake, and suddenly as the snow keeps falling, only a couple of flake's manage to find their way onto his neatly combed head of hair. DUH!

I recently read that original star Patrick Macnee actually approves of this movie because Steed doesn't carry a gun like he never did on the t.v. show. Wow! There's a ringing endorsement. I'll take Dirty Harry and his magnum or John McClane and his machine gun any day and in keeping with the dignity of the English culture, I'm sure even the most loyal British movie fan would be dying to rent a James Bond movie, complete with guns and weaponry used stylishly by Connery and Roger Moore after seeing this movie where Steed's trusty umbrella seems to be lethal on his foes.

For fun with an umbrella, I recommend turning on any re-run of the 1960's television series 'Batman' and seeing Burgess Meredith "Wah, wah wah!" his way through an episode as the Penguin, using his umbrella. It's more enjoyable and entertaining than this turkey of a movie where the real asset is...well, there really aren't any!

Copyright 1998 Walter Frith

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