Movies spawned from old television series have less to do with a particular show than with whatever it is we think we remember--or love--best about it. Otherwise, what's the point, right?
So what then is the point of making "The Avengers" as a feature film? And what is it, exactly, that's worth reviving?
Most of those episodes were warm souffles; empty inside for the most part, but served with flair and decorated with just the right amount of spice. Still, it's not the stories we remember so much as the chemistry between Patrick Macnee's Steed and Diana Rigg's Peel. Within the confines of the small screen, both actors were graceful, magnetic presences. Rigg, especially, spurred a cult of fevered devotion among the original show's younger fans that hasn't grown old even if those same fans have.
So how then do you duplicate a magic aura from 30 years ago? You don't. But that apparently hasn't stopped those who made this new incarnation of "The Avengers" from trying. Needless to say, they fall short--though not by as much as one might have expected. Or feared.
For one thing, they've got the tone right, beginning with a suitably preposterous plot: Mad meteorologist (Sean Connery) plans to pulverize London with bad weather unless he gets (Do I have this right?) "10% of Britain's gross national product." Several dotty touches are scattered about, including mechanical killer bees, henchmen dressed as giant teddy bears and a sweet old lady spy who knows her weaponry.
The rapport between Ralph Fiennes' Steed and Uma Thurman's Peel is agreeably droll and briskly seasoned with double-entendres. They're almost, but not quite, as charismatic as the originals. Yet Fiennes, though lacking Macnee's physical stature, adds a layer of gimlet-eyed implacability to Steed's elegance, reminding you that, as well-mannered as he is, the man will kill you in a blink if he has to.
Thurman has a far tougher task of competing not only with a previous actress' portrayal, but with a generational icon. She has the right physique and she seems to be enjoying herself through all the leaping, kicking and running. But still . . . well, what's fair? Put it another way: Ray Knight had to follow Pete Rose's act in Cincinnati and proved himself a great ballplayer in his own right. Let's leave things at that.
In any case, the movie lets them both down with a patchwork climax that feels rushed and perfunctory. And while it's always nice to see Connery do anything on screen, he somehow never convinces you that he really and truly wants to destroy the world. Which, as is the case with Thurman, may not be his fault. After all, the same kids who grew up watching Steed and Mrs. Peel dispatch evil-doers also remember Connery as another British agent of note, battling villains far more scary than the one he plays here.
The Avengers, 1998. PG-13 for brief strong language. Warner Bros. presents a Jerry Weintraub production, a Jeremiah Chechik film. Directed by Jeremiah Chechik. Produced by Jerry Weintraub. Written by Don MacPherson. Executive producer, Susan Ekins. Director of photography Roger Pratt. Production designer, Stuart Craig. Editor Mick Audsley. Music by Joel McNeely. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. Ralph Fiennes as John Steed. Uma Thurman as Emma Peel. Sean Connery as Sir August de Wynter. Jim Broadbent as Mother. Fiona Shaw as Father.