With Hollywood’s fascination with television series remakes, it is surprising that no one has tackled The Avengers before. The comically cool spy adventure series seems like just the type of “franchise” material usually sought by the studios. However, franchise hopes are likely to fade with the premiere of this awkward adaptation.
The Avengers for this big screen adaptation are the prim and proper John Steed (Ralph Fiennes), who’s as impeccable in his manners as he is deadly in his combat. And then there’s the brilliant, seductive and dangerous Mrs. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman).
The film chronicles the meeting of the two Avengers. Mr. Steed is already part of the Ministry, a top secret British spy organization. When England’s weather-defense systems are sabotaged, Mrs. Peel is the chief expert, and also the chief suspect in the crime. She is paired up with Steed to prove her guilt or innocence.
The villain in the film is played with relish by Sean Connery. He finally gets to play a Bond-ish villain in Sir August DeWynter, a megalomaniacal Scottish lord with designs on controlling the weather.
Anyone familiar with The Avengers should know that the show had a particular brand of humor, but the proceedings in the film are extremely tongue-in-cheek, and at times get downright silly. For instance, the traditional villain-to-henchmen speech for anonymity’s sake is here played with all participants in giant teddy bear costumes. It doesn’t make much sense, and the goofy antics are certain to displease anyone expecting a straightforward adventure story.
The film seriously suffers from some horrendous editing. Clocking in at under ninety minutes, it seems that most of the expository material has been cut, as well as many transitions. The result is certainly fast moving, but confusing and off-putting as well.
In the plus column, however, are the main actors. All are guilty of slightly (but appropriate) hammy acting, but they all seem to fit nicely into their roles as well. The supporting cast don’t quite fare as well. As leaders of The Ministry, Jim Broadbent and Fiona Shaw never quite settle into their roles. Eddie Izzard is never fully developed as Sir August’s Clockwork Orangish henchman.
There are plenty of moments in The Avengers which have a delightfully surreal quality. However, there are just as many scenes which go a bit too far in their outlandishness. At the same time, some very crucial plot points breeze by, imperceptible in the clutter.
The Avengers is likely a little too bizarre for those expecting the standard spy adventure. It’s not a horrible adaptation, but definitely a flawed one.