Cinema: Even Ralph and Uma can't save the day

The Avengers

12

In theory, could still work. It's different from the Bond films in that its concepts do not depend upon maintaining the macho fantasy of British geopolitical influence. In fact, the original series acted as a tacit acknowledgement that Britain had become a global backwater. Instead of indulging in 007-style posturing, it suggested that British espionage had evolved into a surreal, meaningless and none too serious game. So while Americans dealt with Cold War politics in humourless series like Mission: Impossible, our secret agents inhabited a dayglo world in which threats came from absurdly named companies. John Steed and Emma Peel did battle with DreemyKreem Milk (who wanted to flood the Home Counties with amnesia-inducing gold top), and WormDoom (who had a network of fake pillar boxes primed to release swarms of woodworm). It was hardly the Cuban missile crisis.

In this sense, Jeremiah Chechik's big-screen (12) gets it right. Steed (Ralph Fiennes) and Mrs Peel (Uma Thurman) go into action against giant teddy bears, mechanical wasps and mad scientists. Events takes place in a strange, empty England of stately homes, country lanes and Chelsea mews. There's a bogus company, Wonderland Weather, whose megalomaniac supremo, Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery), holds the world to ransom by disrupting the weather. But where the TV series had an effortless lightness of touch, Chechik's film is overproduced, overplayed and painfully stilted.

The most obvious trouble is the bad miscasting. Thurman concentrates so hard on getting Mrs Peel's Roedean vowels correct that she forgets to act, and Fiennes looks horribly ill at ease - partly, I think, because he has chosen to play Steed as brittle and repressed, a bad misunderstanding of the character. Patrick MacNee's Steed was unflappable and well-mannered, but he also had a sleazy side. He was an ageing roister-doister who hung out with the Carnaby Street swingers, a clubroom lecher in the manner of Leslie Phillips or Terry-Thomas. There's nothing of that in Fiennes. He's too young, too skinny and too asexual. And like Thurman, he doesn't have much of a vocal range. Instead of MacNee's deep, slightly slurred whisky-and-lime-tinged tones, he plays it in a strangulated aristocratic accent that sounds like it's coming from the back of his neck. Don't directors tell actors to speak from the diaphragm any more?

Connery is also something of a disaster, and gives the impression of barely understanding his lines - which scriptwriter Don MacPherson has cruelly filled with trip-wires for that famous speech impediment. The star is made to talk about how he wants to "paralyshe and ultimately deshtroy the shitty". Beyond the top three names, however, the performances are sweetly judged. In a role created in the TV series by Patrick Newell, Jim Broadbent is perfectly cast as the wheelchair-bound Mother, the top man at the Ministry. Fiona Shaw camps it up as his colleague, Father, in dark glasses and a Nehru suit. I found her performance hysterically funny but, as it relied on that old joke of having a blind person walk into things, felt rather guilty about having laughed so much. And the Britishness of the supporting cast is wonderfully reassuring: there's something rather marvellous about seeing the name of a home-grown talent like Eileen Atkins (as a gun-toting nanny) swooping out at you from a blockbuster title sequence.

The film's smaller pleasures, however, are disrupted by Chechik's uncertain hand as a director. Some of his action sequences are atrociously edited, and I suspect that there has been some feverish re-cutting done to this film in recent months, as several scenes from the trailer are absent from the finished movie. A sequence in which Uma Thurman steps into a telephone box and utters the magic words "How Now Brown Cow" is missing - though confusingly, there is a reference to it in a later scene that has made it through to the final print.

Perhaps also the product of some more desperate re-cutting, the film fails to resolve a series of important plot points. I'm not sure why Mrs Peel was being cloned, or why Sean Connery has a portrait of her hanging over his organ. The TV series would have delighted in these non-sequiturs and moved on to the next kooky event. Disappointingly, Chechik's film can only stagger more deeply into incoherence.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?