No, not the Marvel comic characters who escaped onto the silver screen. But the “spy-fi” series from the 1960s and 1970s television series, that was reinvented for a woeful, sequel with new actors in 1998.
The original six series (four in black and white) of The Avengers starred Patrick Macnee as agent John Steed with his trademark bowler hat alongside companions Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). And then after a break of seven years, another two series were filmed, this time called The New Avengers, starring Joanna Lumley playing Purdey and Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit alongside a more portly and less athletic Steed.
The quality of the TV episode plots was admittedly variable. Sometimes brilliantly surreal, with frequent references to enormous-scale game-playing and secret organisations. Other times, lapsing into tedious car chases. But on balance, a good series.
BBC Four aired Series 4-6 of The Avengers. And in recent years, BBC Four and ITV4 have repeated The New Avengers episodes, though ITV4 inexplicably showed the majority of them out of sequence.
But the 1998 film – starring Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery and Eddie Izzard, and directed by Jeremiah Chechik – is a disaster.
While containing some futuristic technology and gadgets, the film is beautifully ambiguous about its period, with a black and white palette occasionally punctuated by bright splashes of colour like the red phone box.
The Avengers film includes many elements of the television series: high performance cars, Steed’s hat and umbrella, surreal moments like a meeting full of men disguised in different coloured fluffy teddybear costumes, and lots of tea. But it fails to pull off the quintessentially British feeling required. The humour isn’t funny. The action sequences should have kicked off a whole new martial art based around fighting with an umbrella. And the plot is more difficult to follow than a fast moving episode of Spooks (with which it shares actress Keeley Hawes) or something from the Bourne franchise.
Apparently, after underwhelmed audiences previewed the 115-minute original edit, the film was cut down to the 87 minute version that is now available on DVD. Crucial elements of the plot must have fallen
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Let’s hope ITV4 or BBC Four show some more of the original series soon.