Today’s feature is not the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: it is 1998’s mostly forgotten The Avengers.
The screenplay for The Avengers was written by Don MacPherson (The Gunman, Absolute Beginners), based on the classic television series created by Sydney Newman.
The director for the film was Jeremiah S. Chechik, who was also behind National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Benny & Joon, and Diabolique, among others.
The cinematographer on The Avengers was Roger Pratt, who has shot such movies as Troy, 12 Monkeys, Batman, The Fisher King, and Brazil.
The editor for the film was Mick Audsley, who also cut High Fidelity, 12 Monkeys, and Interview With The Vampire, among others.
The music for The Avengers was composed by Joel McNeely, who also worked on I Know Who Killed Me, A Million Ways To Die In The West, Virus, and Vegas Vacation.
The two primary producers for The Avengers were Susan Ekins (Ocean’s Eleven, Vegas Vacation) and Jerry Weintraub (The Karate Kid, Nashville).
The special effects team for the movie included Jonathan Angell (Supergirl), John Brown (Willow), Michael Dawson (Judge Dredd, Mortal Kombat), Joss Williams (Hellboy 2, Aliens), Kevin Draycott (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Batman), Rodney Fuller (Hudson Hawk), Kevin Mathews (The Brothers Grimm, Labyrinth), Brian Morrison (Return To Oz, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and Roger Nichols (Slipstream, Batman Begins).
The visual effects crew was made up of Ian Biggs (Supergirl, Wanted), Angus Cameron (Pitch Black, Ghost Ship), Nick Davis (The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Under Siege), Catherine Duncan (Eragon, Event Horizon), Dan Glass (Spice World, Muppet Treasure Island), José Granell (Hudson Hawk, Batman), Antony Hunt (Hackers), Sharon Lark (White Noise), and Nigel Stone (Supergirl, Little Shop Of Horrors).
The cast of The Avengers was composed of Sean Connery (Highlander II, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill), Patrick Macnee (The Howling), Jim Broadbent (Gangs of New York, Brazil), Fiona Shaw (My Left Foot, Super Mario Bros.), Eddie Izzard (Mystery Men, Across The Universe), Eileen Atkins (Wolf, Cold Mountain, Gosford Park), and Carmen Ejogo (Alex Cross, Selma).
Two British agents (John Steed and Emma Peel) team up to stop Sir August De Wynter from destroying the world with a weather changing machine.
The Avengers was apparently significantly cut and re-shot by the studio after a disastrous test screening, but popular opinion is that these alterations hurt the feature dramatically, due to the sacrifice of plot coherence. The cut footage seems to have been lost, making a restored edit unlikely to ever receive a release.
The production history of The Avengers features a number of alternate casting near-misses and rumors: reportedly, David Fincher was interested in directing at one point with Charles Dance in the lead, Nicole Kidman backed out after briefly being attached to the film, Gwyneth Paltrow declined the lead role of Peel, and Mel Gibson was inexplicably considered early on in the film’s planning.
The Avengers was made on a production budget of $60 million, on which it grossed less than $24 million domestically. This made it a significant financial failure, but even that failed in comparison to how poorly it was received critically. When all was said and done, the film was reamed in the press and through word of mouth, starting with the studio’s decision to to preview the movie for the press. It currently holds a 3.7 rating on IMDb, which looks good next to the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 5% from critics and 15% from audiences. Ultimately, the movie was up for a total of 9 Golden Raspberry awards at the end of the year, including Worst Picture, which it lost to An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn.
The studio-mandated cuts obviously really hurt the film, in the sense that the movie is paced weirdly and doesn’t quite make sense given the omissions. However, I doubt that it would have been good if it were left in tact, because the problems with the film go much deeper than minor plot issues and pacing. That said, it would have been better without the cut, but at this point it is unlikely that we will ever see the original theatrical cut again.
Personally, I don’t think that the performances are necessarily awful in The Avengers. Fiennes and Thurman do the best that they can with the banter as it is written. The problem is that the dialogue is written in a way that is too prim and wooden to be realistic or entertaining, particularly for an American audience. It doesn’t feel wrong for the way that the movie is set up, but the entire foundation of the movie is way off the mark. When it comes down to it, the movie just isn’t very fun, though it is clearly trying to be. The only thing the movie has going for it is the banter, and that horse was weak to start with, and is ultimately ridden to the point of exhaustion. The off-the-wall attempts at humor peppered throughout also just come off as weird as opposed to funny, like the infamous teddy bear suits.
Overall, this banter-filled movie is a steady crescendo of aggravation. At first it is watchable, but the persistent banter has the steady erosive effect of a tide, which really got to grating on me by the halfway point of the movie. It is easy to claim that the film was butchered by the studio, but the biggest issue with this flick is the writing, and the only possible solution would have been a full re-write of the screenplay. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the result is a would-be blockbuster built on a foundation of sand.
This is one of those highly public failures that might be worth watching for the fact that it failed so visibly. This isn’t a movie that quietly flopped: it was a contributing factor to the end Sean Connery’s career, and was a massive financial failure that drew plenty of negative attention. Despite it being so boring, I think the movie is worth seeing at least once for bad movie fans, just for the sake of knowledge and awareness.