release date: august 14th, 1998
production budget: $60 million
u.s. gross: $23.3 million
foreign: $25 million
i don’t know if you noticed but every literate person with an internet connection is talking about this avengers movie. it’s quite unusual since the movie is almost fourteen years old, and it’s a rather notorious flop. but it’s a trend i can get behind, way more interesting than everyone writing about the same box office sweepstake candidate during its opening weekend. hollywood has enough resource to spend on marketing to shove things down our collective throat without additional promotions from the blogosphere.
the avengers ’98 is based on a british spy tv series from the 60’s, without any picture books or origin movies to hype itself up. ralph fiennes and uma thurman play the secret agents john steed and emma peel, originally played by patrick macnee (waxwork 1 & 2, a view to kill) and diana rigg (the great muppet caper, on her majesty’s secret service). macnee has a cameo in the movie as an invisible man. steed has the bowler hat and umbrellas, mrs. peel has the red hair and skintight black leather cat suit, later reused by black widow. it has nothing to do with the quality of the movies but i think said catsuit works best and classiest here. maybe a little because of the britishness, but mostly because as far as i know, uma has never taken any mirrored naked pictures of herself with her skankPHONE.
the opening scenes effectively set the tone for the rest of the movie. steed does a mission impossible-ish fight scene that turns out to be a training exercise. he recruits mrs. peel whom we assume is his partner but turns out to be a possible suspect of a break in at the headquarter. instead of the usual spy movie attitude, the characters simply talk playfully to each other, regardless of which side they are on. tea and macaroon are more important than the plot, and in this case, it’s a good thing.
just as casually introduced is the villain sir august de wynter played by sean connery. it’s a welcoming change that a villain in a summer blockbuster (hopeful) doesn’t ham it up. he’s only in about three scenes in the movie. he has the bond-ian evil scheme to monopolize weather and blackmail the british government, with secret hideouts and filmic technologies and gadgets. as weather/environment/sky-related movies go, this is better than highland 2 and medicine man. it’s also quirkier than the later tone-deaf mechanical league of extraordinary gentleman. and also there is this:
the smart screenplay by don macpherson (crossing the line, absolute beginners) avoids the pitfall of most blockbusters nowadays: mistaking boring exposition/backstory scenes as character-building. every line of dialogue either rhymes or is a pun or double entendre. and it works in such a way that doesn’t remind you of tarantino, or campy like batman and robin, or painfully cheap and obvious like the austin powers movies. i also like the fact that while london is being destroyed, especially big ben (in accordance to the rule that landmark must be destroyed in blockbusters that takes place in their respective city), and perhaps faithful to the original tv show, we never see any regular citizens running for cover. this was done probably because the tv show didn’t have the budget, but it adds kind of a surrealistic quality here. and after all these summer, are there any point in seeing a big city being struck by disaster with extras cowering and running amok? do we need a michael bay movie referencing 9/11?
having never seen an episode of the avengers tv show, the movie looks like it’s a pretty faithful adaptation, of the carefree 60s britain, if not the tv show. it’s a cheerful breezy 90 minutes with a few 60s psychedelic elements thrown in, even though it eventually has to follow the blockbuster formula and settle things with action scenes involving narrow catwalks. on the other hand, i don’t think this movie is worthy of singling out for not answering every single plot thread.
though i wouldn’t call it a great movie, it’s a pretty entertaining hour and a half. and i don’t think it’s because of low expectation based on its infamous reputation. recently i found out that if you don’t like a movie that everyone is talking about and is supposed to like, they would recommend you to be fired. thankfully i don’t get paid doing this, so i don’t think i can get fired for liking the avengers 98. nevertheless, i should address the major objections.
the first group of haters is the fans of the original tv series. their complain is that there is no chemistry between steed and peel. i thought fiennes and uma make a pretty cool looking couple. there’s more chemistry here than say, uma and affleck in paycheck, or everyone else in batman and robin.
they also have a problem with steed and peel kissing in the movie, whereas on the tv show, it’s more of a subtle, tongue in cheek affair. as i mentioned, i haven’t seen the tv show, but based on what’s on screen, the kiss seems pretty organic to me. though it’s not as hot as the boot fitting scene. i don’t think i would be pissed if they make a seinfeld movie twenty years from now, with none of the original cast and crew attached, that things are different from what i remember of the tv show. it’s called adjusting your expectation. i enjoy it more than say, the flintstone movie, but it’s hardly worse than the beverly hillbillies movie, the mod squad, or most snl movies.
another major group of detractors are the film critics. the avengers 98 currently has the metascore of 12 out of 100, which puts it at the same level as pluto nash and the master of disguise, and just a tad below freddy got fingered, daddy day camp, glitter, and from justin to kelly. it’s more than a bit of hyperbole on their parts. perhaps they are pissed that the avengers 98 was not screened for critics, which usually means the studio has given up on the film. how dare they make film critics pay to watch a movie that’s not citizen kane? it’s inexplicable considering that same summer gave us armageddon, the roland emmerich godzilla, six days seven nights, disturbing behavior, halloween h2o, air bud 2, and dead men on campus, in addition to batman and robin came out the previous year. how many of those movies dare referencing richard iii/john steinbeck by sean connery with bagpipes in full scottish garb?
the film also unfortunately won a razzie for worst remake/sequel, which illustrates that the razzies is not really about the worst movies of the year since fellow nominees includes the roland emmerich godzilla, the gus van sant scene by scene remake of psycho, and lost in space: the movie. it’s not even the worst movie its distributor (warner bros.) and producer (jerry weintraub) released that year. that honor goes to the paul wts anderson/kurt russell movie soldier, released a few months after the avengers. warner later stumbled into the matrix movies and weintraub produced the ocean’s movies a few years later. as much as i love the razzies, they are similar to the oscar (which they are supposed to make fun of, ironically) in that they would rather focus on major motion pictures and big names rather than truly bad movies. while i have no doubt that jack and jill or bucky larson are bad movies, it would be more believable and genuine if atlas shrugged part 1 is nominated too.
while the movie was surprisingly entertaining, the behind the scene story is equally, if not more interesting. as told in peter bart’s book the gross, which focused on the 1998 summer movie season. though the diabolique remake wasn’t commercially successful, warner bros. liked it enough to give director jeremiah chechik (benny & joon, national lampoon’s christmas vacation) a chance. the avengers 98 became a summer movie after warner’s two supposed tentpoles: the tim burton/kevin smith/nicolas cage superman movie, and the ridley scott/arnold schwarzenegger version of i am legend fell apart. without any big summer movies, warner bros. hastily put together lethal weapon 4, which began shooting without a script, and with much of the profit going to the cast and director. in trying to force it into a big summer movie, the avengers 98 was cut from its original two hour running time to 89 minutes. it was also test screened with a mostly hispanic audience in the assbackward arizona. though i like the movie in its current form, i don’t know if it needs to be two hours long.
p.s. in addition to connery, there are numerous bond references here. i don’t know if the original avengers tv series is a takeoff of the bond series, but macnee, the original steed showed up in a view to kill, and the original emma peel, diana rigg showed up in on her majesty’s secret service. the end credit song of the avengers 98 is sung by grace jones, who plays a villain in a view to kill.
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