Skip to main content

What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear.

The Avengers
5.1: The Fear Merchants

The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.


I do, however, love the new opening titles, my favourites of the show, Sergio Leone stopping off in Kensington with a few days to kill. The show's boosted production values may not extend to disguising the Macnee and Rigg body doubles/stunt people (although there seems to be a sight gag in a hospital at one point you might think was drawing attention to this very thing) but there's definitely added flash involved, as Gordon Flemyng (the two Dalek movies) visits Wembley stadium for the first shot; the budget's all up there on screen.


PembertonWhat we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear. The inner fabric of us all, Mrs Peel.

Less so in Philip Levene's teleplay, which feels very familiar, even if it hasn't quite been done before. Cargill's Pemberton and his Business Efficiency Bureau are bumping off the competition of Brian "Foggy" Wilde’s ceramics manufacturer Raven – who seems a fairly low-grade client for such a ruthless business – via a method of frightening them with their worst fears to the point of death or incapacitation: open spaces, mice – Bernard Horsfall comes a cropper there – speed, birds, spiders. 


As one would expect, Steed employs their services to kill Mrs Peel. Unfortunately, he rather messes up by fibbing in response to every question they ask him (there's a a lie detector in his chair). A fight in a quarry ensues – a popular location this season, but at least the leads' doubles are getting out in the fresh air, I guess – with an implied death by toppling bulldozer.


PembertonYou're extremely well adjusted, Mrs Peel.
Mrs PeelAnd just look where it's got me.

There's an amusing subsequent interrogation of Mrs Peel. Well, about as mirthsome as this episode gets, as she irritates Pemberton with her mockery ("I know, it goes around and around, and it all comes out here" she observes of their method) and proves resistant to analysis (the fear index admits she is "beyond capacity").


RavenAh, a lesser-billed white-chested nighthawk.
SteedCharming, quite charming.
RavenNot quite charming enough, Mr Steed.

Wilde's also good value in his scenes with Macnee, Steed presenting himself as a representative of the Monopolies Commission and completely failing to grasp Raven's idiosyncratic grasp of ceramic quality ("Mr Steed – that’s perfection!" he intervenes, as Steed is about to follow Raven's example and smash a piece).


Mrs PeelSomebody tipped a display cabinet on me. Half a ton of china came raining down. Quite unnerving.
Steed: (avoiding Emma's chips of plaster) I can imagine how he felt.

The regulars have, of course, honed their interplay to an effortless art, with business including Steed avoiding Emma's sculpting chips and a new introductory strategy: a box of chocolates reveals a "Mrs Peel – we're needed" card, a motif that will run throughout the season. As such, the final gags are (mostly) less OTT than in Season Four, here restricted to some interplay about what to do with chocolates but no champagne ("Now, that really frightened you, didn’t it?")


The Fear Merchants' guest cast includes Annette Carell (B in The PrisonerA. B. and C.), and Edward Burnham (Professor Kettlewell in Robot), but even Cargill and Wilder can't prevent it from being a decidedly run-of-the-mill affair.



















Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …