The late 90s were not kind to Warner Bros, and it’s almost eerie how history has repeated itself as of late there. Think about it: following a not too well received Batman film (Batman and Robin-BvS), and then a more left field DC comics adaptation (Steel-Suicide Squad), they make a slew of strange blockbusters that just don’t click with audiences (Sphere, Tarzan and The Lost City, Wild Wild West-Jupiter Ascending, Pan and Legend of Tarzan). Furthermore, both eras saw Warners dip back into the haven of TV nostalgia, and resurrect a beloved spy series from the swinging 60s: for 2013, it was Guy Ritchie’s take on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and back in 1998, it was one time comedy auteur Jeremiah S. Chechik´s (Benny and Joon, Christmas Vacation) adaptation of Britain’s own The Avengers (not to be confused with Marvel’s, of course).

Throwback Review: The Avengers (1998)

The similarities don’t end there: both have high-profile casts, both have a visual style heavily informed by colourful, bold 60s kitsch, and both take on a quasi-satiric tone, embracing but also making fun of various tropes and details about their respective franchises. The Avengers, created in 1961 by Doctor Who´s godfather Sydney Newman, covered the adventures of the dapper secret agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee on the show, Ralph Fiennes in the film) and his assortment of female cohorts, most famously, combat-savvy scientist Emma Peel (Diana Rigg and Uma Thurman respectively), who are tasked with foiling evil schemes that threaten Queen and Country. In the film version, they are charged with stopping a mad nobleman, Sir de Wynter (Sean Connery), intent on manipulating Earth’s weather.

Throwback Review: The Avengers (1998)

Avengers ’98 really is the poster child for all that could go wrong with a blockbuster in the 1990s, effectively ending the once bright career of Chechik when it tanked. Where do I begin? Well, plot and character development are unbelievably choppy, with little to no justification for why characters make choices or go from location to location other than ‘just because’ (seriously, we go from hijinks in the English countryside to travelling through snowscapes in the span of two minutes). Apparently, anywhere from 40 to over an hour was trimmed from the runtime, and how it shows: Steed and Peel, despite supposedly being the best in the fields, often make irrational or nonsensical decisions that make Steed look like an idiot and turn Peel into a cheap damsel in distress for Connery to weirdly fondle in some very bizarre scenes. They do no real investigating, never really discuss their mission and don’t show off a tonne of intelligence outside of the action (more on that in a bit). If this was a part of the intended satire, the bare bones nature of just about everything kills it stone dead.

Not that you will be able to dwell on it long as the pacing feels like the editor had consumed lethal amounts of Red Bull. Not only in scenes that were re-edited and thus made nonsensical, but the impatient editing also messes up the setup and timing of the jokes (like the infamous teddy bear scene, as well as the numerous quips Steed and Peel trade with de Wynter), as well as harming the flow of action scenes. That’s right: Warners created a comedy-action film that seems to be in a mad rush to get through the action and comedy as fast possible. And suspense that could make our leads feel like they’re in danger? Down the drain completely, given the short scenes, mad pacing and cartoon physics of the action.

Throwback Review: The Avengers (1998)

So yes, this has disaster plastered on it through and through. Surely it deserves to be every bit as reviled as its other TV-based 90s brethren, Wild Wild West? Actually, dare I say it, there are some positives that elevate it above that: Chechik acquits himself well with a few modest set pieces, including a car chase from robot wasps, and a sword duel in the midst of stormy waters between Steed and de Wynter which is actually well shot, the edited finally relaxes and is decently choreographed. Something also not crippled by the pacing is the suitably bright colour palette, strongly 60s-influenced, with Joel McNeely’s score being at once kitschy and exciting, like a classic Connery Bond score. It’s far better than the film it’s stuck with. Furthermore, all the actors embrace the silly material, with Connery having a ball as the megalomaniac weather terrorist, while Fiennes capably handles being the ultimate British gentleman. Thurman’s accent is passable enough, and she cuts a decent figure in the assorted skirts and catsuits she’s stuffed into, though her chemistry with Fiennes is a little underwhelming. In smaller roles, we get some familiar British faces in Jim Broadbent, Eddie Izzard and Roger Lloyd Packer, so that’s a nice touch.

Throwback Review: The Avengers (1998)

Look, I’m not here to play cinematic white knight: Avengers ’98 is undeniably a total mess, and yet, it’s oddly intriguing to watch, if only to see where Warners were in the 90s before The Matrix came along and changed everything. In every other way, it’s terrible, with a mangled plot, wonky jokes and flagrant disregard towards the source material that makes you wonder what Chechik was trying to prove in the original cut.