As a genre fan, one of my favorite sub-genres is spy-fi, and one of my favorite examples of spy-fi is the unique classic British series The Avengers (1961-1969) that featured the lethally charming, dyed-in-the-wool, memorable pair of secret service agents, the Imperturbable and steadfast John Steed and the very enigmatic, very mod, and competent Mrs. Emma Peel. Both roles were portrayed to perfection by Patrick Macnee and Diana Riggs. The Avengers was a terrific yet-to-be-equaled-one-of-a-kind series that had a significant influence on me back when it was on the air. The show captured just enough of the revolutionary social zeitgeist of the time to appeal to my age group, and for me, and a lot of other young people at the time, the show held the promise of a brand new world. I wanted to be Steed, not dress exactly like him, but to be the calm and unflappable good knight like he was, and everyone I knew, including me, was madly in love with Mrs. Peel, and that probably has a lot to do with why I decided, out of the blue last night to revisit this film.
Okay, flash forward to 1998, and someone has the idea of doing a tongue-in-cheek, camp, lighthearted, tribute film o the classic series featuring Ralph Fiennes, and Uma Thurman as the stalwart British pair of secret agents. Add to that getting Sean Connery to play the psychotic villain along with a science fiction plot about controlling the weather, and you’ve got yourself a pretty damn good little movie right? What could go wrong? Quite a bit, it turns out. Re-watching the film last night, I was struck by several fails almost immediately, first of all, and this is a big one, the film tries to capture the charm of the series and fails to do so, I’m not sure why but the lighthearted anglo atmosphere eludes this film thoroughly.
Yes, there’s more, secondly, as a fan of the original series I realize now I am incapable;e of accepting any to replace Patrick Macnee and Diana Riggs as John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peele, I did like Fiennes as Steed better than Uma as Peel though. I have several issues with Uma as Mrs. Peel, she tries so hard to be hot and fails. They did something very odd to Uma’s makeup in this movie where she doesn’t even look like herself some of the time, I don’t know how to else to explain it, it’s weird. Also, they tried to turn Mrs. Peel into a smug wonder woman who was always out to rub it in Steed’s face, which I did not find appealing about the character. I suspect that was for pandering to the nineties feminist movement of the time, but they went a little overboard. In addition, there was something odd about the way Sean Connery looked in this film also, his face seemed distorted at times.
The fight choreography was a little underwhelming, for a first-rate film, and so were the special effects, causing the overall production quality to end up a little on the weak side. There was nothing notable or memorable by the film’s supporting cast, in fact, Connery dials in a big serving of ham in here. I can’t remember a movie I have enjoyed him in less, and I am a fan of his, he seems out of place here, and that love scene with Uma was cringe-worthy.
There were a few things I liked about his film’s narrative though, the idea of weather control, for example, is a good one that has been used before but never fully developed in a science fiction movie or series well. I did like some of the camp humor, like Connery’s character’s name Sir August de Wynter, and some of his toys like the flying robot bees with machine guns were amusing. Then one time the film did manage to capture some of that original Avengers surreal, camp, oddball charm was the scene with the multi-colored life-sized teddy bears. That I liked.