The Avengers (1998)

The 100 Films Guide to…

The Avengers

Saving the World in Style.

Also Known As:
Chapeau melon et bottes de cuir (France — Bowler Hat and Leather Boots)
Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone (Germany — With Umbrella, Charm and Bowler Hat)

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 89 minutes
BBFC: 12
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 13th August 1998 (Israel)
UK Release: 14th August 1998
Budget: $60 million
Worldwide Gross: $48.6 million

Stars
Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, Harry Potter)
Uma Thurman (Batman & Robin, Kill Bill: Vol. 1)
Sean Connery (Goldfinger, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)

Director
Jeremiah Chechik (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Benny & Joon)

Screenwriter
Don MacPherson (Absolute Beginners, The Gunman)

Based on
The Avengers, a ’60s British TV series created by Sydney Newman.


The Story
After the UK’s weather control project is destroyed, apparently by one of its own scientists, Ministry agent John Steed is assigned to investigate. Teaming up with that scientist, Mrs Emma Peel, they uncover a plot to hold the world’s governments to ransom…

Our Heroes
Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state must be avenged by agents extraordinary: John Steed: traditional, stylish, reserved, lethal. Emma Peel: doctor, atomic scientist, poet, meteorologist, physicist, marksman.

Our Villain
A former agent of the Ministry, Sir August de Wynter is now head of BROLLY, the British Royal Organization for Lasting Liquid Years, who have developed the technology to control the weather and now seek to put it to nefarious ends.

Best Supporting Character
Machine-gun firing granny Alice. Eileen Atkins was offered the role of the Ministry’s deputy leader, Father, but thought the part of Alice sounded more fun, so they re-wrote to enlarge it for her.

Memorable Quote
“Now is the winter of your discontent!” — Sir August de Wynter

Memorable Scene
Instructed to meet Steed at his gentleman’s club, Mrs Peel waltzes into the place, despite the objections of the receptionist. She marches through the building, shocking the patrons, until she finds Steed in the steam room — naked but for the newspaper he’s reading. “Please, don’t get up.” “I was about to throw in the towel.”

Memorable Music
Michael Kamen was originally hired to score the film, but eventually quit after being constantly given revised cuts of the movie to work with. His replacement, Joel McNeely, had to turn something round in short notice, and I’ve seen his score described as clearly rushed, dull and uninspired. But at least the TV series’ classic theme is in there, and fairly well used — once right at the start (although there’s an ever-so-’90s X-Files-y number over the main credits), and then again perfectly as a farewell over the final scene. Rumour has it Kamen’s score was darker and more atmospheric, with a greater and more interesting use of the original theme. Given the general disregard for the movie, I don’t imagine it’ll ever be unearthed for us to find out for ourselves.

Letting the Side Down
The teddy-bear meeting, where the participants are kept anonymous by wearing giant teddy-bear costumes. It’s an attempt at emulating the whimsy of the TV series, but an empty one — as the series’ regular writer Brian Clemens once commented, if the plot’s about controlling the weather then the meeting should’ve been weather-themed somehow.

Some people would say there’s a lot more wrong with the film than just that one scene, but there’s more to it than that…

Making of
When Warner Bros execs saw the first cut of the movie, it was not what they were expecting. I don’t know what they were expecting, but I guess not something so tongue-in-cheek, whimsical, and camp. Apparently the first test screening in Phoenix, Arizona, was to a “largely Spanish-speaking, working class” audience — hardly the film’s target market, and unsurprisingly they hated it. The studio forced cuts and reshoots, taking the movie from 115 minutes to a sprightly 89, sacrificing plot coherence for the sake of speed. And so a true disaster was born.

Previously on…
This is a reboot rather than continuation of the original TV series — it shows how Steed and Mrs Peel met for the first time. I don’t know if the TV series actually covered that (I really should watch it all one of these days), but I don’t imagine it went like this.

Next time…
The Avengers ultimately became a massively successful multi-film franchise under the auspices of Marvel Studios. Oh, no, wait, that’s some other thing. No, after suffering atrocious reviews (it’s sometimes cited as one of the worst movies of all time), the ’98 Avengers slinked off into relative obscurity (it’s probably better remembered here than in the US thanks to the TV series connection, but Marvel’s super-friends are gradually replacing it in the consciousness, sadly). Still, the world of the TV series lives on in occasional comic books and audio dramas.

Awards
1 Razzie (Worst Remake or Sequel (tied with Godzilla and Psycho))
8 Razzie nominations (Worst Picture, Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Actress (Uma Thurman), Screen Couple (Fiennes & Thurman), Supporting Actor (Sean Connery), Director, Screenplay, Original Song (Storm by Grace Jones))

Verdict

I was one of the half-dozen people who actually saw The Avengers at the cinema in 1998. I don’t remember disliking it, but then I was all of 12 so what would I have known? Its poor reputation has only grown in the intervening decades, so I wasn’t expecting to think much of it as a more critically sophisticated adult. But, much to my surprise, I kind of loved it.

I guess in ’98 people were expecting some kind of serious-minded thriller, probably in the Bond mould — this was just after GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies had relaunched that series to much acclaim and box office success, of course, and The Avengers was another hallmark of ’60s British spy-fi. But The Avengers and Bond were never the same tonally, and the film embraces the mannered, quirky tone of the TV series, then turns it up to eleven. Personally I think it’s a tonne of fun, with arch performances, ripe dialogue, and a deliciously camp air.

If it wasn’t for WB’s post-production fiddling, which has left the plot feeling a bit janky and spasmodic, I reckon this would be a cult classic by now. They really ought to have a bad reputation for that kind of fiddling at this point — Batman Forever, Suicide Squad, and Justice League come to mind. But never mind the Snyder cut, I want them to #ReleaseTheChechikCut. Sadly, it’ll never happen.

2 thoughts on “The Avengers (1998)

  1. Hey, I was another one of those half dozen people. I think that maybe it had a good trailer? I can’t remember. I’m intrigued you liked it this time round. Maybe it’s time for a boutique blu-ray label to pick it up and we can all give it a reappraisal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, I actually do think the trailer is pretty great — I ended up watching it several times while putting this post together because I enjoyed it. I guess it didn’t work to sell the film because it still flopped, but it does a pretty good job of encapsulating what this film wants to be.

      Sadly I doubt we’ll ever see it get a good Blu-ray release, because it’s just so unpopular, but that’s a shame because I do think it’s better than people give it credit for. It’s so stylised that it’s probably an acquired taste, but I expect even people who might like it are put off trying because of how derided it is.

      Like

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