Production values on The Avengers (1998) are stunning. The set design and costuming are immaculate. The cast couldn't be more perfect - Uma Thurman as the very mod Mrs. Peel; Ralph Fiennes as the proper Mr. Steed; a then not-so-famous Eddie Izzard as a gum chawing henchmen to Sean Connery's positively batty villain, Sir August de Wynter. It has the extra-dry British wit that the 1960s television show was known for, along with all the James Bondian spy-fi fantasy elements. Plus, it's the only movie where you'll see something like this:
It's Sean Connery heading up a conference of giant teddy bears. How evil.
In a post-Austin Powers/Goldeneye Anglo lovefest, this should have been a kooky hit in the U.S. Instead, it bombed miserably, taking in a third of what it cost to make ($23 million gross). And now with another Avengers scheduled for release in 2012 (same title, not the same movie), this one will probably become forgotten - it already comes second in a Google search list.
So before it disappears completely from everyone's memory, I wanted to give it some recognition. I really didn't think it was all bad, its curious plot making it more of a novelty than a blockbuster hit. Peel and Steed have to stop de Wynter from taking over the world with a machine that controls the weather. Meanwhile, Peel discovers she has a murderous doppelganger, resulting in a few fight scenes where Thurman has to fight herself. There are lots of clever exchanges between characters.
"I suppose Mother warned you about women like me," says Peel.
"Until now, I didn't know there were women like you," retorts Steed.
There's also tons of action, smart hats that double as weapons, and skirts made micro-mini as to accommodate plenty of high kicks. So why didn't it work?
First of all, "The Avengers" didn't have a big following in the U.S. It's like adapting "Are You Being Served?" or "Doctor Who" for the big screen based on the few dorks who watch it on BBC America. (Although, I would like to see the American version of "Are You Being Served?" - I imagine Steve Martin as a disastrous, but inevitable, pick for Mr. Humphries).
Wild and crazy guy, indeed!
Ultimately, I think the movie failed for the same reasons Barry Sonnenfeld's Wild Wild West (1999) failed, by trying to recreate something that was un-recreatable. Both "The Avengers" and "The Wild Wild West "came on the heels of Connery's 007, and spy thrillers were hot ("The Wild Wild West" was described as "James Bond on horseback").
Wicky, wicky wild/wicky wild/wicky wild wild west . . .
In the '90s, Pierce Brosnan successfully reintroduced audiences to a new Bond with Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, both based off the silly, swinging '60s model. Hollywood figured that if movie patrons bought into the kitsch, then they would embrace the cult series inspired by the original films. But they didn't, because both shows were really weird, even by the standards of my parents' generation. Why would my then high-school aged generation, the demographic these movies were geared towards, want to watch these? Most of us had no idea what either of these shows were, making them all the more foreign and strange.
But it wasn't all for naught. Before there was "Mad Men," The Avengers was introducing us to amazing '60s fashion like go-go boots, big resin earrings and colorful A-line dresses. Wild Wild West was most likely responsible for introducing many of us to steampunk.
In the old West, even wheelchairs were steam powered.
So as part of the grunge-loving, Fruitopia-drinking, "Friends"-watching era, I just want to say I'm sorry Avengers for going to see BASEketball and Halloween: H20 instead of you. I was young and I didn't know any better.
As for Wild Wild West, I'm not sorry at all. You're a bastard, and I'm glad I've only seen bits and pieces of you on HBO.