Most unapeeling

Patrick Macnee, who played the original John Steed in the superlative TV series The Avengers, has a guest "appearance" in the new film version as an invisible agent, seen only via a pipe and glasses. The two lessons I draw from this are that Macnee couldn't bring himself to show his face in this awful film, and that it's an apt metaphor for the way the filmmakers have scrubbed away any charm of the original.

The Avengers

starring Uma Thurman, Ralph Fiennes, Sean Connery

Guild 45th, Oak Tree, others

The original Avengers lacked large budgets and was forbidden the overt sexuality and violence of the big-screen Bond films, so instead relied on intelligence, wit, surreal plots, and ideal casting. What resulted was a comic-strip version of swinging '60's London, presided over by the derbied and brollied Steed and his partner in espionage, the karate-kicking scientist Mrs. Emma Peel. Unlike, say, Mulder and Scully, this was a duo that had already worked out the sexual tension of their relationship. As Macnee said years later, both actors assumed the characters had a wild roll in the hay before the series had begun, and had settled into the potent and knowing relationship of two great friends.

Like every other crucial detail about the characters, this relationship is completely misunderstood by the film version, due both to a laborious and confused script and some truly awful miscasting. Now, I had my doubts that Uma Thurman could ever step into the thigh-high boots of Emma Peel, originally played by the thinking man's bombshell, Diana Rigg. Partly it's that she's built all wrong, being neither British nor svelte nor markedly cerebral. But it's also that, faced with a role like this, poor Uma seems to lose whatever modicum of acting ability she ever possessed. Instead, she does a sort of "Diana Rigg impersonation," with coy eyebrow raising and hair flips. It's like watching a 14-year-old lip-sync to Madonna songs. Even her leather cat-suit has a sort of weird rubber exoskeleton worked in that makes her look like a plastic action figure. I assure you, the original Mrs. Peel needed no such augmentation.

But if Uma's entirely unsuited in the role, so is Ralph Fiennes (who's smug and smarmy as Steed), as well as Sean Connery as the weather-controlling mastermind

August De Wynter. Who in hell would cast the suave, charming, and unflappable former Bond as an evil mastermind? This is a role that requires a chortling, leering, ill-concealed mania, with lots of extra eye-rolling, all areas where Connery scores a low D-minus.

 
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