Even though I am many months late in reviewing Marvel’s triumphant super-hero movie, The Avengers, I figured I might as well review this particular one. This isn’t to say that this 1998 film is better by any stretch of the imagination, but I will admit that I saw it more than once, but never in the theater.
The film had everything it needed to be a summer blockbuster. It had big stars with Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery, special effects, action, and it was based off an old TV show. One has to wonder how this could have gone wrong. The answer lies in the old TV show. The original TV show was about John Steed and Emma Peel, two detectives (for lack of a better word) who always took on cases that were odd as they were surreal. The duo were like Scully and Mulder on X-Files, but not dark, and it usually did not go into a supernatural level. The Avengers was imported from Britain, and it isn’t really for everyone.
I suppose that the best way to classify The Avengers (the show and the 1998 movie) is spy-fi, but I found that the sixties were really a golden age for this type of genre. Shows like The Prisoner and certain James Bond movies often had the same elements as The Avengers movie like a meglomaniac who wants to rule or destroy the world, quirky side characters, and skillful and alluring heroes. They also had very groovy setpieces. About the only spy-fi of its type I have found similar to it is the Austin Powers series, and they are more parody than anything.
The Avengers has a tagline of “saving the world in style”. I suppose this is the best description as any. The Avengers does have a style that embraces the spy-fi era of the sixties, and its heroes purposely act with detached emotions. You sort of have to when you are in a film where you karate chop bad guys in one scene and then sip tea in the next. The Avengers tries to take the sixties spy-fi a step further with modern action and special effects. The film blows its budget to create sets that are wondrous as they are unusual, but on the whole, there is something missing.
Perhaps the film tries too hard to imitate its predecessors. It has the scene where the villain meets with his henchmen, and then asks them if any want to drop out. Well, I’ve seen this scene way too many times to know what happens next. The head villain then kills the quitter. The only difference is that all the villains are dressed like giant teddy bears. Yeah, that sounds weird, and it is. Perhaps The Avengers made the mistake of trying to be so original that it delved into the way too weird.
Perhaps attempting a film like this was a trap from the very beginning. Not only do you have to accept that the main villain has some apparatus that can control the weather, but you have to accept that the only thing that can stop him are Steed and Peel. The film makes an attempt to show how the two spies met, which I am not certain the original show ever did. The origin was somewhat disappointing.
On the whole, The Avengers is not a film that one goes for any depth, theme-wise. I don’t have a problem with films that rely on surface value, as some of the best action/adventure films avoid it. One has to admire cinema’s ability to transport the audience into a world that is not our own, but if the world isn’t one that I can’t really relate to, then what is the point?
My advice is if you can see it for free, do it. Perhaps you might like the way the film attempts certain scenes, but they might resemble scenes from other and better action films. I hope someone does attempt to revive the spy-fi of the sixties in a better way.