THE AISLE SEAT - "THE AVENGERS"
by Mike McGranaghan
Some signs that The Avengers is a troubled movie:
Despite the early warning signs, I was looking forward to The Avengers. Come on, I thought to myself as I entered the theater, how bad could it really be? The answer is - pretty bad. This film is a mess, although you can see where it might have had potential. It wouldn't exactly be accurate to say it's a bomb; it's more an incomplete movie than anything.
Based on the old TV show, The Avengers stars Ralph Fiennes as secret agent Steed and Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. That's good casting, as it is also wise to have Sean Connery on board as the villain, Sir August De Wynter. But whereas most movies start at the beginning, progress to the middle, and conclude at the end, this one seems to start in the middle, rush to the end, and leave out the beginning altogether.
Here's how it plays for the first half hour. We meet Steed in a training exercise. Then we meet Emma, when she is called in to meet with Steed and his superior officer, "Mother". That she is some sort of scientist who has invented a thing is all we know about her. Steed shows her a videotape of someone who looks exactly like her beating up an unknown man. She claims the person is a look-a-like and not really her. Steed and Mother decide not to charge her (with what, I'm not entirely sure), allowing her to prove her innocence instead. Emma and Steed go to see De Wynter. He's in a meeting with a group of people who are all dressed as teddy bears. Emma and Steed try to find him, but only encounter a creepy-looking guy who hides behind trees and gives them nasty looks (he's played by the British cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard, who admittedly has a lot of screen presence).
Eventually we kind of get the idea that De Wynter has some sort of plan to control the weather, and Emma has created some sort of gizmo that may somehow make that possible. But who is the Emma Peel look-a-like? Who's the creepy guy? Does he work for De Wynter or someone else? Who are the men dressed as teddy bears? Why does De Wynter want to take over the world by controlling weather? What exactly did Emma create? There are no clear answers to any of these questions. Later on, Steed and Emma go to visit a man who is invisible, but his role (or the reason for his invisibility) is never really explained either. Maybe the filmmakers were just looking for a cheap excuse to use an invisibility effect.
I think this is the major flaw with The Avengers. Nothing - and I mean absolutely nothing - is explained. The plot is so full of holes that trying to make sense of it is useless. It's obvious that there was originally a longer cut of the picture and lots of things were trimmed from it. I'm sure Fiennes, Thurman and Connery would not sign up to do a movie that was as incoherent as this one. Something got lost along the way. There's no story continuity here at all; apparently all the stuff that explained what was going on was excised. Imagine reading a book where every other chapter has been ripped out and you'll have some idea of what it's like to watch this movie.
I can't say if the problem came because the footage didn't work or if test audiences disliked it (a common Hollywood malady is to simply take out everything test audiences hate and release whatever's left...as if you can make a good movie just by taking out all the bad parts). Regardless, there is the basis for a good film here. The actors are all talented, the sets and cinematography are interesting, and director Jeremiah Chechik (Diabolique, Benny & Joon) tries to give the film a jaunty feel. The problem is that the movie simply isn't finished. It's impossible to enjoy when all the explanatory material is missing. I just kept shaking my head, wondering what was supposed to be going on.
The Avengers is a disaster of epic proportions. I can't remember the last time a big-budget, big-star "event" movie tanked so badly. Something went wrong and all that's left are the remnants of a potentially interesting film. As bad as it is, though, I didn't hate The Avengers; I felt sorry for it.
( out of four)