John Steed (Ralph Fiennes), an agent with The Ministry, is one of their best men, as shown when he runs their gauntlet of training exercises, managing to avoid the pitfalls and succeed with a not inconsiderable nine out of ten score. But the head of the department, Mother (Jim Broadbent), is concerned that trouble is afoot, so calls on Mrs Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) to meet with Steed at a gentlemen's club for a head to head; intrigued, she takes up this offer and quickly finds herself in an adventure...
While the audience found themselves in something of a confusion, and the filmmakers found themselves in a quandary - what had happened to their movie, which on paper, and even during filming, had seemed like such a sure thing? The answer to that, and reason this was such a flop with audiences and critics and those who decided they had better things to do with their time than watch this, which was just about everbody, apparently resided in a crisis of faith in the project at the studio. Director Jeremiah Chechik found himself taking the blame for the mess that was the recut and reshot results, and never directed another film again.
He found a second career in series television after a long period of inactivity, yet while you could see it was not all his fault, this version of the beloved sixties television show was either aiming for its spirit and missing, or trying to make a more serious reboot for a franchise which never needed that level of grittiness in the first place. If anything, this was more The New Avengers of the seventies in tone, except that had been softened by cold feet at Warners so we could see that it had been more violent, more intense, before the re-editing struck the two hour version. Either the suits were wrong, Chechik was wrong, or the truth lay somewhere in between.
For a film that was thoroughly lambasted, there were nevertheless hints that it had some good ideas before they were swamped with a tone suggesting one of those American sketch shows spoofing a hit they had no real grasp of. Every so often its tourist's idea of what Britain was like hits a target of genuine novelty, so the plot is taken up with Scottish scientist with a not very Scottish name August de Winter (Sean Connery) tackling the British obsession, the weather, not a bad jumping off point in theory, but hard to translate to a quirkfest where the effects were mainly a cold snap, a thunderstorm and a hurricane, nothing really the cast could get to grips with.
Connery was good casting, and apt considering Patrick Macnee's Steed was as much a small screen spy icon as Connery was on the big screen, yet Fiennes and Thurman were miscast, with no sexual tension between them which led to the characters being practically forced to be as intimate as the plot would allow (they even kiss!) where the chaste relationship in the series was far more engaging. The Mother character from the Tara King season is plonked down here with an evil equivalent in Father (Fiona Shaw), and other tone deaf casting concepts included Eddie Izzard as a mute henchman (apart from one groaningly crass line) and Shaun Ryder of all people who is barely introduced before being gunned down by Eileen Atkins. Severe arthritis led Macnee to appear in voice only, and hearing his short scenes only reminds fans of what they preferred about the original as this devolved into a lot of noise, bereft of wit or even much steel. Only the teddy bears and the eerily empty land- and cityscapes pointed to what might have been. Music by Joel McNeely.