The tumults of analyzing Spider-Man 3 caused our favorite cine-medic to take a holiday. Now he’s back in the thick of it, though, and he’s ready to visit the TV to movie adaptations genre to see what dire cases require his attention. The most dire case of the bunch is indeed ill, and The Cinema Doctor will now see if The Avengers can themselves be avenged.
Directed by Jeremiah Chechick
Starring: Ralph Feinnes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Shaw, Eddie Izzard, Eileen Atkins, and Carmen Ejogo
Based on the television series The Avengers
PATIENT DESCRIPTION: The Prospero weather shield is sabotaged, and the prime suspect is the project leader, Emma Peel. The ministry assigns dapper agent John Steed to investigate Peel and the reason for the project’s sabotage. The pair instantly detect the real culprit, weather obsessed aristocrat Sir August DeWynter. Sir August intends to take control of the world’s weather in order to hold the entire world for ransom.
- The production designer definitely made some valiant efforts to emphasize some of the more surreal elements from the TV series such as the location scenes being completely devoid of life aside from the main characters. The world of The Avengers is a very quirky world where such sensibilities are matched by the characters who inhabit it.
- The villain’s scheme is very much in keeping with many of the schemes of the baddies from the classic series. The villains always seemed to be able to perform obscenely impossible technological feats like time travel, visiting underground cities, creating cyborgs, brain-switching, etc. So the idea of a man holding the world for ransom via weather manipulation is a clever concept.
- Other examples of the film’s fidelity to The Avengers‘ eccentricities include many of the secondary characters such as Mother (Jim Broadbent) and Alice (Eileen Atkins), both very much in keeping with the surreal, and most importantly, British aspects of the original series.
- The chase sequence involving the robotic wasps is a nice action sequence and another bit which one could imagine the original series doing if the special effects were available.
- The sequence where Emma Peel is trapped in an MC Escher style staircase is another triumph of cinematography and production design. The scene really aids in disorienting the audience and creates a sense of caution.
- The costume design is absolutely impeccable. Emma Peel’s outfits maintain the sexy allure that is a trademark of the character, while Steed’s wardrobe is very sleek in its old school sophistication.
EARLY ASSESSMENT: Whatever shortcomings that will be revealed in due course, it definitely cannot be denied that the visual aspects of the film are absolutely on the money. The camerawork, production design, costumes, and props all give fans of the classic series some assurance that the film might actually be in keeping with the series.
- The First MAJOR flaw is the fact that the casting is completely wrong. No disrespect towards Ralph Feinnes, but he looked completely out of place as a British dandy / lethal secret agent. Not saying he has to mirror Patrick Macnee’s take on the part, but John Steed is as vivacious as he is dapper. Even in perilous situations Steed still has a smile, particularly if the situation is totally within his control. Not that he’s cocky; he’s just a poster child for British gentlemen. He faces the menace, and he carries on. Feinnes is too serious of an actor to portray a character as deceptively foppish as John Steed. Macnee is brilliant in this role because he balances the roles of posh British gent and dangerous super spy with almost effortless style.
- Same situation with Emma Peel. Here is a fantastic actress who is truly out of place in this film. Unfortunately Uma appears to be having a hard time trying to master her British accent, as opposed to trying to master the role. This problem alone is enough to jeopardize any kind of potential Thurman may have had in the role. What Miss Thurman (and obviously the director) didn’t grasp is that Emma Peel is above all things, confident, collected, and self sufficient. Very rarely does Emma Peel ever need to be rescued, and when she does she still maintains her fearless demeanor. As a matter of fact there was an episode of the classic series where a close analysis revealed that Emma Peel is totally without fear. Thurman’s Emma Peel is vulnerable to an irritating fault. She is constantly captured by the villains, and she doesn’t really get to do any real ass-kicking until a very anticlimactic fight with Sir August’s henchman.
- One of the sincere joys of the original series is that John Steed and Emma Peel were always equals, and there was always a sort of playful steamy chemistry between Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. You just had to love it when they had scenes with just the two of them and their wordplay off each other like verbal foreplay. You just don’t feel that same chemistry between Feinnes and Thurman. There’s no sense of attraction between them. They’re just two actors doing their jobs adequately enough to earn a paycheck.
- On paper the villain of Sir August DeWynter is an excellent idea, but Connery just couldn’t make the role go beyond that. He could never lose that look on his face that said, “Why didn’t I keep my retirement vows? What am I doing here?” In the scene where he is giving an ultimatum to all the world leaders, it is blatantly obvious that he was trying to remember his lines. His participation in this film was meant to be an event because he was playing a villain, a type of character which Connery very seldom played. The final result was quite underwhelming, seeing as the full extent of his villainy in the role was pressing nondescript buttons, barking at people, and inexplicably wearing teddy bear suits.
- Granted, actors can only go as far as the director can push them, and this director was clearly too intimidated to actually direct. Understandable, as his headliners are two Oscar nominees who won prestige playing a psychotic Nazi and a cocaine addicted mob wife, while the third is a screen legend. What does the director have under his belt? Benny & Joon and Christmas Vacation. Riiight, smart move Warner Bros. If you really wanted to blow sixty million, why don’t you go for the gold and have Renny Harlin direct it? It can be thoerized that director Jeremiah Chechick got ambitious at the prospect of directing a major Hollywood action film, and when production started he realized he bit off more than he could chew. Chechick’s half assed direction leads one to the conclusion that here is a director with absolutely no real comprehension as to what made the original series such a classic.
- For that matter, neither did the writer, and that is where the real defects originate. If the screenwriting on this film were even halfway competent, Warner Bros would’ve sprung the extra dough towards a better director and a better cast. According to the early history of this film, this was meant to be a lengthier film, clocked at approximately two and a half hours. Negative test screenings forced Warner Bros hand to have the film hastily recut, dropping a full hour. The final result led to more plot holes than every season of Charmed combined. Writer Don MacPherson failed to understand that the original series was a quirky show which, in its own special way, spoofed the spy genre with their bizarre plots and oddball villains. It was always light-hearted, even when it was being dramatic. This film had absolutely none of that. The first real faux pas was taking this film out of the sixties, the time period of the original Avengers. The second was having the actors play it straight. The dialogue in the film is so stiff that you’re wondering if the writer typed the script on sheet metal. Never once does the script exhibit any kind of playful repartee between the two leads.
- The studio’s massive re-cut on the film may have been responsible for this, but if not, there are a slew of plot holes that are never addressed. Why did Sir August really need a mole in The Ministry? What was the real point of have a cloned Emma Peel in the story? Seriously, was the writer unable to figure out any other way to involve Emma Peel in the story than by cloning her and having the clone sabotage the Prospero Project? For that matter, how was Sir August able to clone Peel in the first place? If Sir August had such a fixation for Emma, why was he so driven to fight Steed, a man who, before this situation, he had absolutely no real reason to bear a malice towards? I think I made my point.
- The Steed and Peel of this film drank tea more times that the original Steed and Peel did in the entire series! If anything Steed, and Peel were actually prone to having champagne when the opportunity presented itself.
DIAGNOSIS: Writeria Sanstalentosis
It’s sad to say that this baby was destined to be mentally challenged when it was conceived. The disastrous chain of events which led to the final result can all be traced back to the writer’s less than inspired screenplay. Every idea the writer had was wrong, as was his approach to beloved material which could easily have been the best comedy adventure film of 1998, right next to Lethal Weapon 4. The bad script begat the studios attaching a second rate director to the project. The director’s blind ambition convinced him that he could make a solid film out of an eccentric TV show which lived and breathed the era it’s from. His ambition revealed his inadequacies, and as a result he made a film that had “incomplete and underdeveloped” written
all over it. All of this can be blamed on the script. The script is always the foundation upon which any film is built. Iif the foundation is weak, the entire building will come tumbling down.
- Recast completely from scratch. I recommend either Eddie Izzard or Colin Firth to play John Steed. For Emma Peel, maybe Rachel Weisz, Emily Blunt, or even Kate Beckinsale.
- Analyze the original series and uncover the very things that made it a classic. Then look to see what can be done to refine the screenplay in order to expand those traits to the screen. For extra measure, study the Austin Powers films, which do a brilliant job of satirizing the spy genre and the sixties at large.
- Return the story of the film to the 60’s because that’s really where The Avengers belongs.
- To replicate the quirkiness of the original series, it would even be recommended to study where McG actually went right with the first (emphasis on FIRST) Charlie’s Angels film. That movie had just the right amount of cheese and healthy helpings of wild action to make it an enjoyable TV revival.
- Sack the writer after reading his first draft, and have another writer write the script based on MacPherson’s outline. Maybe even go so far as to get one writer who is adept at writing a comedy of manners and another writer who understands the anatomy of an action film.
CAN THIS PATIENT BE SAVED?
I’m sad to say this baby was doomed from the first second. The writer failed in every way possible, and as a result the rest of the film suffered. I recommend putting the film to sleep.
NEXT SESSION: The Cinema Doctor will examine X-Men: The Last Stand and find out who’s the real evil mutant: Magneto or Brett Ratner.