31 May 2006 | MartinK75
A wasted opportunity
Is The Avengers a good film? No. Is it the worst film ever made? No. I first saw the movie at the cinema upon its release and, at that time, I did think that it was one of the worst films I'd seen up to that point. I've watched it 2 or 3 times since then and my opinion of it has improved, well, very slightly at any rate. Apart from a pervading incoherence, I think the film's major problem is its slightness; it's only an hour and a half long and the plot is very simplistic to say the least. It's not hard to imagine audiences feeling a bit short-changed when it first came out, especially as the film was a big-budget, would-be summer blockbuster. Another big problem is the casting of Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. Thurman has shown herself to be a fine actress in movies such as Pulp Fiction but she just looks out of her depth here (I never believed in her as a top-level scientist for a second) and her English accent doesn't sound natural. Nicole Kidman, to whom the role was first offered, would surely have been better, in particular, she's displayed flawless English accents in films such as The Others and The Hours. An English actress I also think would have made a great Peel is Joely Richardson but the studio would probably have vetoed such a choice on the grounds of her not being a big enough name. Ralph Fiennes was a real enigma in this film - there was nothing wrong in principle in casting him as Steed but he looks ill at ease throughout the movie as if he'd rather be elsewhere. I can only assume he'd already twigged that the film was going to be a turkey. What's worse, Fiennes and Thurman have absolutely no chemistry between them, which wastes the snappy dialogue they have with each other throughout the film. The supporting cast fare a bit better with seasoned pros such as Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent and Fiona Shaw making the most of their underdeveloped parts. The retro-chic world of the original TV series is nicely recreated and there's no shortage of nice cars, costumes and locations but what's good about the film is easily drowned out by what's bad; The Avengers is ultimately a shallow, rushed and messy affair, severely hampered by the performances of its two leads. Handled properly, the film could have been a wonderful success for all concerned, the first chapter of an entertaining and lucrative franchise, stretching well beyond the 1990s; instead it's one of the most embarrassing flops of that decade. The original cut of the film was apparently two and a half hours long but, following negative reactions from audiences at test screenings, the studio hacked the film down to its present one and a half hour length. This doesn't actually come as much of a surprise as there is a lack of proper narrative flow to the film suggestive of chunks of explanatory scenes having been cut out. Just one example: towards the end of the film, just before they enter Sir August's underwater lair, Steed and Peel enter a phone box and Peel says "how now brown cow?" down the phone. The phrase seems to be a password to enter the premises but how does Peel know it? There's been talk here and there of the possibility of Warners releasing a director's cut or special edition DVD, restoring the original two and a half hour version. I think this would be a good idea and I'd definitely be interested in watching the full version of the film. It's highly unlikely to be any kind of masterpiece but it's difficult to imagine that it wouldn't improve upon the movie as it stands. At the very least you'd have to assume that it would be more coherent. Sadly I don't think the chances of Warners going down this line are high; I have the feeling that this is a movie the studio would rather forget about than draw attention to.