The IMDB.O. List: Is ‘The Avengers’ Really One of the Worst Movies Ever?
In The IMDB.O. List, ScreenCrush editor-in-chief Matt Singer watches every single movie on the Internet Movie Database’s Lowest Rated Movies list to determine whether they truly are the worst movies ever made. Previous chapters can be found here.
Movie #1: The Avengers (1998)
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Writers: Don Macpherson
Release Date: August 14, 1998
U.S. box office: $23.3 million
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 5 percent
Metacritic score: 12
Letterboxd average grade: 1.7
IMDb Bottom 100 Ranking: 69
Is This Movie Bad?
Yes. It is very terrible.
How Bad Is It?
Bad enough to rate on our recent list of the worst summer blockbusters of all time. And after watching it again (there are few sadder, accurate sentences one could write about my life than “He has seen the 1998 version of The Avengers multiple times”), I think we might have rated it too low. It is awful.
Right off the bat, you should know: It is in no way related to The Avengers with Robert Downey Jr. and the Chrises (although in leather catsuit and red hair, Uma Thurman does look weirdly like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow). This Avengers is a film version of the old British spy show of the same name that predates even the creation of The Avengers comic by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They don’t actually do any avenging in the film, so their name doesn’t make much sense. Nothing in this movie makes sense, though, so I guess it works on that level.
The film’s hero is John Steed (Ralph Fiennes), a top secret agent for “The Ministry,” where he reports to a mercurial boss codenamed Mother (Jim Broadbent). Steed is sent to recruit a weather scientist named Emma Peel (Thurman) to help him solve the mystery of a break-in at a weather research facility which, according to security camera footage, was carried out by ... Emma Peel. So they send their prime and only suspect to prove her innocence? Great spy work, guys!
Emma is innocent, of course, because of some vague and never explained cloning technology created by the film’s main villain, Sir August De Wynter, played by Sean Connery, a great actor giving an epically bad performance. Ranting, raving, over-enunciating every line of dialogue, Connery’s work in this movie is hammier than a smoker at a barbecue festival. Calling De Wynter a cartoon villain is an insult to cartoons, where the villains often have far more nuance and shading than this. That said, it is kind of satisfying when he is killed by (spoiler alert) getting stabbed and being struck by lightning and being sucked into a giant tornado in the sky all at the same time.
De Wynter is obviously, palpably, evil from his very first moment onscreen, but it takes the Avengers the entire movie to figure that out and finally stop him. The clues they use to piece this puzzle together are often hilariously obvious; in one scene, Steed literally picks up a map that was lying under one of De Wynter’s vans as it makes a speedy getaway:
The movie constantly cuts corners like that. It barely clocks in at 90 minutes, and it seems like chunks are missing; one scene will end and the next will begin in a totally different location, with no explanation as to how Steed and Peel got from one place to the next. All the big sequences with special effects are here, but the connective tissue that would have bound them all together and provided apparently unimportant functions like “building character” and “providing motivations” and “offering a single shred of humanity in this sea of artificial visual noise” are missing. The Avengers feels like the CliffsNotes version of itself.
A film like The Avengers doesn’t necessarily need to move with the precision of a Swiss watch; if The Avengers had a couple decent thrills and some good lines, that would be enough. Reader, I am here to tell you it does not. The screenplay is one of the stranger ones in existence. Peel and Steed only converse in one-liners and droll puns; they never get excited, or nervous, or angry about a man trying to destroy the entire world with artificial weather; they just keep cracking bad puns about their situation. The references to British culture are so superficial (they drink tea!) you’d swear the movie was written by aliens who’d only heard about England second-hand from reading about it in a children’s encyclopedia.
The film doesn’t look “bad” necessarily, although it does seem odd that Steed and Peel’s costumes are so utterly out of sync with the times, and also that there appear to be absolutely no residents of London whenever the city is shown on camera. Maybe they’ve all been killed off-camera, and that’s who these characters are avenging.
Does It Belong On a List of the Worst Movies Ever Made?
On a list as long as the IMDb’s, hell yes.
The Avengers is currently streaming for free (with ads) on Vudu. Even at that price, you’re getting ripped off. Next time on The IMDB.O. List: I go on a big balloon adventure.
Gallery - The Worst Movie Posters Ever Made: