The Citizen Kane of Awful: The Avengers (1998)

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Relax. I’m not about to tell you why Marvel’s superb The Avengers from 2012 is one of the worst films ever. Instead, I’m going to be watching the film that meant we in England were cursed with the clunky Avengers Assemble as the title for Joss Whedon’s recent hit. The Avengers was a popular 60s TV show about a spy agency featuring Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman and in 1998 it was resurrected for a film adaptation. In the following article I’ll be finding out just how wise that decision was. Place your bets now. Remind yourself what this feature is called if you’re unsure.

For the full Citizen Kane of Awful experience, get some friends involved, have a viewing party, whatever takes your fancy. Remember, this feature isn’t about laughing at terrible films, it’s about laughing at them together.

Minute-by-minute commentary:

00:00:00 – You’re looking at the cast aren’t you? You’ve still got some hope. That’ll pass.

00:01:29 – Opening titles like a Bond film on acid. The tone is set surprisingly dark by these early moments.

00:01:49 – Keeley Hawes! Star of Ashes to Ashes! It’s always fun seeing established talents in their early days. Also yes, it’s that Shaun Ryder.

00:03:26 – Guh, typing someone’s name onto the screen. So ’90s. Do you reckon we’ll look back at all those text and email graphics in modern TV with the same scorn? Ralph Fiennes has appeared, looking worryingly like Voldermort, considering he’s wearing a bowler hat.

Avengers 3

00:04:18 – So far so British. Cobbled streets, milkmen, bobbies on the beat and oh- they’re trying to kill him. This film clearly doesn’t take itself as seriously as the opening titles suggest. Some ridiculously unflustered combat, somehow reminiscent of Singing in the Rain and the embarrassing Bond-Fu days at the same time.

00:05:34 – Jim Broadbent as…’Mother’. Unlucky Jim. If this were a straight-up Bond spoof you’d have to give them credit, but it’s clearly trying to be more than that.

00:06:29 – Now I don’t like to judge, but there are clearly six lines of cocaine on the table in front of Uma Thurman (Dr. Emma Peel). Plus she’s wearing a kimono and her gas-heated kettle’s got a coiled wire handle. BECAUSE THAT WILL INSULATE HER FROM THE HEAT. You’re so wacky Uma. Look at you with your pop art canvases. How cosmopolitan for a spy. Edward Snowden would’ve never got away with that shit.

Avengers 4

00:06:45 – That’s it Uma. Eat your chocolate. HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD OF SUBTLETY?

00:07:11 – “I’m afraid that’s impossible. You’re female!” Ah ’60s sexism. Classic. But that’s not going to phase our Uma, is it? Look at her, shaking up the establishment. And there’s even a nearly-naked Fiennes in the steam room. Maybe we’re seeing a bold inversion of Bond’s blinkered gender politics here?

Avengers 5

00:07:42 – Look it’s Ralph’s arse! Connery would’ve never accepted that back in the day. We’ve got a real double team going here. The flirting though, is embarrassing. If you thought Roger Moore was bad…

00:08:58 – Mother’s HQ is in some underwater dungeon. I bet the damp’s terrible. I’m struggling to work out when this is meant to be set. Fiennes dresses and talks like a banker from the 1920s, but Uma seems to be from the ‘60s. Then there are the ‘hi-tech’ headquarters that are meant to be contemporary. This film clearly hasn’t made its mind up, which helps nobody.

00:09:09 – Ooh Uma took the macaroon anyway. She doesn’t give a fuck does she? Just look at her. Fiennes isn’t happy. Make your mind up mate. Do you like your women flirting with you while you read naked in a sauna or do you like them silent and starving?

00:09:37 – Gaping Plot Hole #1: so the Prospero machine changes the weather and that somehow stops people attacking Britain? Because no one uses long-range missiles in wars, right?

00:10:23 – “Or guilty until proven innocent?” quips Ralph. No Ralph. That’s not how the legal system works. Never get called up for jury service.

00:10:46 – Gaping Plot Hole #2: so you’ve got Uma on tape attacking guards and destroying the Prospero machine, you tell her she’s your chief suspect, she barely protests, and your response is to send her out to find who did it? I mean I respect the faith you have in your employees Mother, but that’s a bit of a crap way to run a criminal investigation.

00:11:10 – Hahaaa, ‘Father’ bursts out of a second-floor bookcase dressed like Dr Evil. She’s blind, so obviously walks like a Cyberman. Ah, so Mother’s plan is to let Uma lead them to “the real enemy”. Or you could just, I dunno, question her?

Avengers 7

00:12:00 – Awww, they’re fencing whilst discussing plot points. How adorable. Do you reckon the writers of Die Another Day watched this? And now Fiennes gets his arm trapped between Uma’s legs. Oo-er. “A little more…flexibility in the wrist.” Go home Ralph! You filthy sexpot. Connery would never be that crass. Some of this repartee is entertaining, but it’s got a gloss of high-camp in its delivery that’s more suited to a Carry On film.

00:14:01 – Hahahahaaaaa. This was worth waiting for. The most hilarious character introduction since that woman burst out of a bookcase five minutes ago. Eddie Izzard, complete with the world’s most conspicuous sideburns, leers round a marble column chewing gum. Like a real tough guy. You know? Cos they don’t even care about being polite or nuffin.

Avengers 8

00:14:35 – As ridiculous as this film is, having a car that dispenses tea from its dashboard would be pretty damn cool.

00:15:22 – There’s an organisation called B.R.O.L.L.Y. Of course there is. It stands for the British Royal Organisation of Lasting Liquid Years. Whatever that means. This is so childish it’s actually quite entertaining. Apparently the scientists of B.R.O.L.L.Y think that British weather has been tampered with by aliens. Could this plot be any more British?

00:16:22 – Yeah, go on Uma, charm him with your “feminine touch”. And to think I considered this film vaguely feminist ten minutes ago.

00:16:54 – Oh wow, we’ve got another fantastic character introduction here. Sean Connery is playing the organ in a room full of snowglobes. He’s a terrible mime as well. And there’s an ancient painting of Uma above him? Things are getting creeeepy.

Avengers 10

00:17:40 – Nice set design with the snowglobes and now these hanging glass spheres in a greenhouse. I suspect this was filmed in Kew Gardens and it looks suitably exotic. Worth noting that Uma’s English accent has been solid throughout. Arguably more believable than Ralph’s uber-posh spiel.

00:18:20 – So Connery’s appeared and grabbed Uma by the throat. She’s completely unflustered though and responds by pointing out that he’s “all wet”. You know what, her and Ralph are filthy. They deserve each other. Connery proceeds to kiss her hand and tell her how he’s always had a thing for “women who are meteorologically inclined”. He’ll say anything to get in her pants. This isn’t the way to seduce women Sean. In my experience they don’t like people cutting off their oxygen and telling them that overcast skies make them horny. Apparently Uma’s fine with it though.

00:18:40 – Okay, this deserves its own section. I’m just going to quote this verbatim:

Connery: “Even as a boy, when Nana taught me the naming of the clouds…”

Uma: “Cumulus.”

Connery: “Yes!”

Uma: “Stratocumulus.”

Connery: “Ohhhh yes!!”

Uma: “Nimbus.”

Connery: “Oh I discovered then, NOTHING beats a good lashing. Mind your head [They duck under a branch] In India, you can have a good ten inches overnight there, you know? One should never fear…being WET. Hmm?”

Remember how earlier I said Connery would never be this crass? I was wrong. Either Connery is properly dedicated to this metaphor or he genuinely gets turned on by weather conditions. He probably goes dogging in the Met Office car park after hours. For legal reasons I should probably clarify that by ‘Connery’ I’m referring to the character he’s playing, because let’s be honest, no one cares enough to remember what he’s called.

00:19:53 – “Nothing is impossible. Only mathematically improbable.” Er…gonna have to disagree with you there Sean.

00:21:12 – A classic red phonebox has appeared in the grounds of Connery’s mansion and as Fiennes heads towards it like any true Englishman, a storm kicks up from nowhere. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the growing popularity of mobile phones in 90s Britain. Or maybe it’s just a shit plot device. You decide. This bit feels a lot like The Prisoner, the classic surreal British TV show where Patrick McGoohan is trapped in The Village for eternity. I wish I was watching that right now. I am not a number, I am a free man!

Avengers 12

00:22:13 – Of course! The phonebox was Narnia all along! Fiennes emerges into an actually quite pretty snowscape before a woman appears on a husky-driven sleigh. This is most definitely an homage to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I like it. The woman is Uma’s evil doppelganger, in an outfit proving that if this was the good Avengers, Uma would make a pretty convincing Black Widow. Then she shoots Fiennes in the chest.

00:23:35 – I’m now instigating a drinking game. It’s got to that point. Every time someone makes a cringeworthy innuendo, you drink. Fiennes just announced that he was “frozen stiff”. Off you go.

00:24:16 – Uma’s “the sort that doesn’t take no for an answer.” Easy Uma. If this was 2013 and your name was Robin, you’d be in a lot of trouble right now.

00:24:35 – The piano’s playing itself. Nice touch. To their credit, the cast are all fully committed to this farce, which stops it getting too embarrassing. There’s Keeley! She’s a 60s receptionist with a bob.

00:26:04 – Here it is. Here is the greatest moment in film history. I’m tempted to stop watching now because nothing can top this. I’m going to let the picture speak for itself. Remember, I have no more context than you at this point.

Avengers 13

♫ If you go down to the woods today…♫

Avengers 14

This man used to be the coolest person on the planet. Just look at him now. Whatever secrets they’re blackmailing you with, it’s not worth it Sean.

00:27:20 – Oop. Pudsey wants out. Big mistake Pudsey. Bullseye! Dart to the face. Connery’s a man of many talents.

00:30:19 Ralph has stumbled into Eddie Izzard and his gang of toughs. You know they’re ‘ard ‘cos they’re all wearin’ leather jackets and that. One of them’s even smoking, the rebel. Actually the one that’s smoking is Shaun Ryder from The Happy Mondays. He clearly couldn’t be arsed to finish his fag before they started the take. You get what you pay for, AKA seminal 90s psychedelic indie frontmen. Some pretty brutal takedowns there from Fiennes. Nice work from him and the stunt team.

00:32:23 – Uma gets attacked by her doppelganger in a bear suit. Nice moment. She punches the bear and in response it leaps off the side of the building to escape. As you do. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll notice that real Uma has blue eyes and the double has brown eyes. That’s either a continuity error or a clue depending on how generous you’re feeling. I’ve just realised we’re half an hour into this and to its credit the plot is moving very fast with little flab remaining. Who knows what the remaining hour has in store…

00:34:55 – Look at these two. Playing chess, drinking wine, discussing the plot and flirting all at the same time. That’s some multitasking to be proud of.

00:37:06 – Ah, Father and Connery (August De Winter fact fans, August De Winter) are in cahoots. And as this film is outrageously British, they discuss their plans whilst playing croquet. As Father bends down in front of Connery to take a shot, he pulls the face you can see below. Grow up man. You were 68 when this film was made.

Avengers 17

00:38:13 – Ralph and Uma are being chased by a swarm of robot wasps controlled by Shaun Ryder and Eddie Izzard. I love that I got to write that sentence. The CGI is actually pretty good for 1998 and it’s followed by some impressive and realistic explosions as the duo try and escape.

00:39:40 – Shaun and Eddie have joined the chase in their classic Mini. You have to admire the dedication to a British production design. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nigel Farage preferred this to the latest Bond film. Things are getting a bit Endor as well, with robot wasps crashing into trees during this high-speed chase.

00:40:57 – Shaun and Eddie go careering off the road and their car flips several times. And then they immediately get out and run away. Pull the other one lads, it’s got bells on. Shaun then gets shot by a granny wielding a Tommy gun. A fitting end .

Avengers 19

00:42:50 – Gaping Plot Hole #3: Uma, Ralph and the granny enter a maze and decide to “take separate paths and meet in the middle”. Er, why? Why not just all go the same way? In fact, why are they even in the maze? The house is right there!

00:43:50 – Uma falls into an underground passage (stop it you) and Fiennes and Connery begin a swordfight. Then Connery disappears and Black Widow Uma returns to knock out Fiennes. I’m not simplifying events, that really just happened.

00:44:55 – Real Uma wakes up in a psychedelic version of the Ludovico Technique machine from A Clockwork Orange and Connery wipes her memory with some kind of poison dart.

Avengers 20

00:46:02 – A semi-conscious Uma waltzes around the mansion with Connery before he lays her on the bed and removes her scarf. Then he goes to kiss her, but is distracted by the doorbell. If only all elderly rapists were defeated so easily. That scene was pretty uncomfortable and perfectly represents the confused tone of this film. It’s not sure if it’s a quirky, light-hearted pisstake or a dark and serious thriller.

Avengers 21

00:48:20 – Uma is trying to escape the building and finds herself on a Penrose staircase, a classic optical illusion where the stairs appear to travel downwards but you end up back at the same spot. It’s a nice touch of invention and in all fairness this film has kept things lively with some of its quirkier touches.

00:52:12 – Well that conversation between Ralph and Uma was quite charming until he announced that her boot was “too tight” and she ordered him to “push”. Oh and until Father burst into the room and arrested Uma.

00:53:35 – Ralph has just met an invisible man at HQ. Quirkiness is fine, but you can’t just laugh in the face of reality like this

00:54:42 – Uma’s been dumped into a padded cell, several storeys high and is having a miniature breakdown. Some decent ideas are buried amongst the insanity of this plot.

00:56:50 – STEREOTYPE ALERT: Connery appears in front of a political summit in full Scottish ceremonial military outfit. There’s probably no logical reason for this, but it looks funny. Hell, the guy’s already worn a bear suit for this film. A kilt is nothing in comparison.

Avengers 23

00:59:20 – Broadbent skids into action in his wheelchair and holds up Father with a tiny pistol. She knocks him out of his wheelchair and quips that “It really isn’t…Mother’s day.” HA. HA. HA.

01:00:51 – Uma wakes up in a hot air balloon over London with the doppelganger and Father. As always there is no logical reason for this, but I’m too tired to care. I guess it looks quite cool, if that kind of thing matters to you.

1:03:36 – Uma climbed out of the balloon then things got a bit confusing. I think she fell to the ground and then the balloon crashed and exploded, taking a chunk of Trafalgar Square with it.

1:04:12 – Yup, the real Uma is laying at the bottom of Nelson’s Column. Gaping Plot Hole #4: how did she survive a fall from that height?

1:04:40 – They kiss! Finally! The sexual tension was killing me. And they were both so coy about it. Also, there are still 20 minutes left. What else is left to happen, he asks naively?

1:06:40 – Remember how earlier I compared this to The Prisoner? Well now they’re just ripping it off without bothering to disguise their laziness. Ralph and Uma cross the Thames to the weather-controlling island by walking across in two zorbs. Look familiar? Mother might know best, but she’s also never heard of boats or bridges.

Avengers 25

1:07:45 – “Alas poor teddy…”, “I knew him Steed.” Another Shakespeare reference. We’ve had The Tempest, Richard III and Hamlet so far. If you want a more dignified drinking game then here’s your chance. That’s another notch of Britishness as well. Why this wasn’t part of the Olympics opening ceremony I’ll never know.

1:09:55 – They’ve combined the sets from The Crystal Maze and that scene in The Empire Strikes Back here.

01:11:11 – Eddie Izzard rappels in from the ceiling to stop Uma from dismantling the weather…orb…thingy. I mean this guy can do stand-up, in French, and it’s actually funny, but he’s here playing a bloody henchman. You don’t need to do this Eddie! The following fight on some high wires is actually very well orchestrated, and for once, it’s nice and realistic. Eddie is swung into the central pillar like some steampunk Tarzan and departs with a needless “Oh fuck.” Language Eddie. We’re not one of your debauched stand-up crowds here. This is a family film. An incredibly smutty family film where teddies get slaughtered.

01:13:14 – I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but Connery is holding world leaders ransom by forcing them to buy good weather off him. There’s currently an arctic storm causing chaos in London. It’s okay Sean, we’ve already got global warming to do that for us! Boom! Satire.

01:14:06 – NO! BIG BEN! SEAN CONNERY HAS DESTROYED BIG BEN WITH HIS LIGHTNING MACHINE! I thought you loved Britain Sean! Were you lying to us all these years? And I thought this film loved Britain too! What changed? This must be how the Yanks felt when Emmerich destroyed the White House in Independence Day.

Avengers 29

01:14:30 – The practical effects from the storm during this swordfight are quite impressive. At least the $60 million budget is showing somewhere, right?

01:16:23 – Well that’s an impressive death. Fiennes stabs Connery through the chest with his rather blunt looking metal cane, which then conducts the electric storm and fires him up into the air. Shocking. Positively shocking.

Avengers 30

01:17:40 – Uma stops the machine and saves the day, then dives into the water from a good 50 metres up. Is there any particular reason why you’re showing off? Stairs too boring for you? I mean, how would you feel if after all that work you died pissing around in a giant silo?

01:19:39 – Okay, this is now basically exactly the same as the end of The Spy Who Loved Me. As the credits roll it’s worth noting that Uma Thurman now has the dubious ‘honour’ of appearing in both Citizen Kane of Awfuls so far. She was only in Movie 43 for about 30 seconds, but we’re still counting it.

Avengers 31

Conclusion:

That was actually a lot of fun. If you take the ludicrous plot, embarrassing double entendres and surreal tone at face value, then there’s a lot to enjoy here. Performances were committed and tonally accurate, the script ticked along concisely, and some of the action set pieces were quite impressive. I demand a sequel featuring Roger Moore as a randy bus conductor.

And thus concludes my first entry into the series. If you have any suggestions for films I can punish myself with, let me know below. The next Citizen Kane of Awful will be published in a fortnight, so get your comments in by the 15th January.

The Razzie Awards 2014 nominations were announced today, so it only feels right to tweak this feature in the fine ceremony’s honour for the next few weeks. I will be watching the nominations for Worst Picture every fortnight until the winners are announced on 1st March, with Movie 43 already being covered in Citizen Kane of Awful #1. So without further ado, the next CKoA will be…Grown Ups 2. I can’t wait.

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3 responses to “The Citizen Kane of Awful: The Avengers (1998)

  1. Pingback: The Citizen Kane of Awful #3: Grown Ups 2 | One Room With A View·

  2. Pingback: The Citizen Kane of Awful #7: The Love Guru | One Room With A View·

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