The Avengers (1998)
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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When Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery) decides to blackmail the countries of the world by using a device he has built that enables him to control the weather, two British secret agents, John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) and Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) are sent to stop him.

Although repeatedly condemned as being utterly dreadful, Jeremiah S. Chechik's The Avengers is actually an entertaining film. It is hardly a masterpiece, but it is certainly superior to most other action movies, which are, almost invariably, both unimaginatively realized and uninteresting.

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Borrowing from a variety of different sources, the director has created a visually delightful and often witty film. When, for example, Miss Peel is abducted by the villain, she escapes and wanders through a maze of rooms which, like some place found in a painting by Escher, defies both logic and the laws of the physical universe. Later, she and Steed walk over a lake in huge plastic bubbles and, at different times, fight their enemies while hanging from a balloon, suspended on wires, or threatened by an artificial storm.

Even the movie's supporting characters are amusingly quirky and placed in diverse peculiar situations. The protagonists' superiors, Mother and Father (Jim Broadbent and Fiona Shaw), are thus, respectively, a goodnatured, lackadaisical eccentric and a coldly efficient spy who, at least at times, run their secret organization from an office hidden in a double decker bus travelling through the streets of London. Such humorous touches, fortunately, are also applied to the film's villain, who is just as engaging as are any of these other characters. Perhaps as a nod to the deliberately silly names of innumerable antagonists from the James Bond films, this weather obsessed madman is named August de Wynter. What is more, not only is he, like several of Bond's opponents, an outrageously overdone fiend, but his wickedness is complemented with a real humorousness. When, for instance, he meets with his fellow conspirators, he and they alike disguise their identities by dressing in candy colored Teddy bear costumes.

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In addition to such appealing elements, the countless strange gadgets and wild adventures with which The Avengers is filled are consistently inventively realized and charmingly light-hearted. Early in the film, for instance, Steed trains by wandering through a scenic country town and fighting such unlikely persons as a lethal, armed grandmother pushing a perambulator. Later, that same sexagenarian rescues the heroes when they are being chased by a swarm of giant remote controlled robotic bees equipped with machine guns, and, at several other times, one or another of the two secret agents is confronted or tricked by Miss Peel's deadly doppleganger. In fact, thanks to the diversity of such clever, whimsical elements, the movie's action sequences are almost all fascinating and fun.

Lastly, I should note that most of the actors approach their parts with considerable gusto, and several acquit themselves well. Ralph Fiennes plays Steed as a formal, honest, aristocratic gentleman. He emerges as something of a survival from a past time, as though he believes the world in which he lives is still that ruled by Queen Victoria. Uma Thurman, despite her less than successful attempts to adopt an English accent, is invariably sexy and engaging as the dangerous and possibly traitorous Emma Peel. Jim Broadbent is likeable as the chain smoking, languid Mother, and Sean Connery is completely ridiculous as a supervillain, but, is, nevertheless, somehow entertaining. At the very least, each of the principle actors is able to contribute to the movie's appeal.

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Constantly tongue in cheek, frequently inventive, and genuinely fun, The Avengers is well worth seeing.

Review by Keith Allen

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