If Warner Brothers had not butchered it, film director Jeremiah Chechik's big-screen version of the hip 1960s' British TV show "The Avengers" might have been fun. Instead, the studio savagely slashed "The Avengers" down to an incoherent 90 minutes. Sadly, "The Avengers" emerges as superficial gobbledygook. Meanwhile, the filmmakers botched a perfectly good franchise with miserable casting and superfluous changes.
Anyway, John Steed (Ralph Fiennes of "The English Patient") is back in top form as the smartly tailored chap who wields a mean umbrella. The first scene shows Steed combating adversaries without losing his bowler hat! Steed works for an underground spy organization dubbed 'The Ministry.' His paraplegic boss, ironically named 'Mother' (Jim Broadbent), has assigned him to ferret out who sabotaged the Prospero Project. Prospero is a gigantic weather shield (recall a similar shield in "Highlander 2") that protects the United Kingdom from inclement chaos. Mysteriously, the shield has collapsed, and the chief suspect is former project head Emma Peel (Uma Thurman)! Straight from the start, the big-screen "Avengers" commits the unpardonable sin of rewriting the TV series. Instead of reviving Steed and Peel and carrying on as some of us happily remember the couple from the 1960s, the filmmakers have the brazen audacity to split them up, implicate Ms. Peel as a criminal and waste more than half of the movie trying to get them back together. After Steel and Peel eventually team up, they pursue the villainous Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery of "The Rock") who demands ten percent of Great Britain's gross national product. If the Brits don't cough up, de Wynter threatens to plunge them into a winter of such nasty proportions that "they will have to go to Hell to warm up." Anywhere Sean Connery goes, he carries the baggage of the James Bond franchise, and the implication here is that he is an Ernst Stavro Blofeld type madman. His hidden laboratory looks like the hideout of a James Bond villain.
Although scenarist Don MacPherson's formulaic script has updated the action to the '90s, things seem little changed since the '60s. Chechik and Oscar-winning production designer Stuart Craig have faithfully reproduced the eccentric look that summed up the shoe-string budgeted TV series. You can count the extras in any scene on one hand and wiggle left-over fingers. The 1960s' TV series couldn't affor4d extras so many scenes appeared stylishly destitute. While the glossy $60-million dollar Warner Brothers remake preserves this density, the filmmakers themselves suffered no budgetary inhibitions. For example, the lavish set designs resemble a "Batman" epic crossed with a James Bond extravaganza. The M.C. Escher dreamscape that Ms. Peel stumbles around in furnishes "The Avengers" with one of its few truly inventive bits.
As a meteorological melodrama, "The Avengers" contains the basic outlines of a tolerably entertaining adventure. The problem is that Warner Brothers gutted the story, and what remain amounts to an unintelligible mess. Any rhythm or pacing that "The Avengers" had has vanished, too. Scene after scene is patched together with little relation to the previous scene. Worse, the film never reveals the forces that motivated Sean Connery's mad Scottish villain. Never are those killer bees explained either. Another curiously half-baked element adding to the overall confusion is Peel's evil, look-alike twin who Sir August has cloned and whose portrait hangs over his organ. Two moderately exciting scenes invigorate "The Avengers." One has robotic bees with machine guns swarming after Steed and Peel as they careen through the countryside. The other shows Emma dangling from a series of high wires as she battles de Wynter's chief henchman, Bailey (Brit comic Eddie Izzard).
The casting doesn't help matters. Indeed, Fiennes looks ideal for the role of Steed, but he lacks Patrick Macnee's buoyancy. Fiennes plays Steed as a starchy, tea-drinking umbrella thug who rigidly adheres to the rules of the game. While he cut a fine figure in his Saville Row togs, Fiennes' Steed is too aloof, calculating and snobbish to enjoy. Meanwhile, Thurman blows big chunks as Peel. First, she's an American. Second, Thurman radiates all the charisma of a Barbie doll. True, Thurman boasts a fetching figure in her cat suit, but she cannot hold a candle to the enchanting Diana Rigg who played Mrs. Peel in the television show. The cute banter between Steed and Peel here kindles only a modicum of chemistry. As for Sean Connery, he is the best that this choppy saga has to offer. Indisputably, he sports the best outfits, especially when he attires himself as a murderous teddy bear than later on as a kilt-clad Scottish lord.
Other problems plague "The Avengers." The destruction of England that Sir August threatens to unleash has little dramatic impact because humanity is never emphasized, much less seen! When a movie has as few extras as "The Avengers," nobody seems imperiled. The special effects lack atmosphere, and the miniature work is rather obvious. Like other summer thrillers, "The Avengers" plays demolition derby with traditional British icons. Big Ben explodes into confetti, and Lord Nelson is toppled from his perch in Trafalgar Square. Occasionally, "The Avengers" seems almost too civilized for its own good. The tea drinking scenes get old fast. Most of the violence is disarming, and little bloodshed and profanity clutter things up.
No surprises spruce up "The Avengers." Often the plot (what's left of it) imitates a Bond movie, particularly the escape hatch scene. Patrick Macnee is wasted in a minor role as Invisible Jones, as transparent a spy as you'll never see. You only hear him. As a machine-gun toting auntie, Eileen Atkins makes more of an impression. For the record, the producers use the original Laurie Johnson TV theme music in two scenes.
Anybody with fond memories of the Patrick Macnee & Diana Rigg "Avengers" is forewarned, skip the Fiennes & Thurman "Avengers." Not even Sean Connery's diabolical nemesis can save this ill-made mishmash! That such cinematic potential has been squandered is really a shame!
Review by zardoz-13 from the Internet Movie Database.