Skip to main content

Gloat all you like, but just remember, I’m the star of this picture.

The Avengers
5.11: Epic

Epic has something of a Marmite reputation, and even as someone who rather likes it, I can quite see its flaws. A budget-conscious Brian Clemens was inspired to utilise readily-available Elstree sets, props and costumes, the results both pushing the show’s ever burgeoning self-reflexive agenda and providing a much more effective (and amusing) "Avengers girl ensnared by villains attempting to do for her" plot than The House That Jack BuiltDon't Look Behind You and the subsequent The Joker. Where it falters is in being little more than a succession of skits and outfit changes for Peter Wyngarde. While that's very nearly enough, it needs that something extra to reach true greatness. Or epic-ness.


ZZ von SchnerkA beautiful performance. You were right. Absolutely right, my dove. He makes an excellent corpse. Excellent.

With only five guest stars (including 3.23: The Outside-In Man's Anthony Dawes as the actor dressed as Steed in the teaser – "He's absolutely gorgeous. Just look at those nostrils"), Clemens' teleplay puts the emphasis on performance, although James Hill, in his first of four for the season, again illustrates why he was one of the most consistently inventive and reliable directors on the show. 


ZZ von Schnerk (Kenneth J Warren, 1.6: Girl on a Trapeze, 2.15: Intercrime, 3.20: The Little Wonders) is a Von Stroheim-esque out-of-favour auteur delusional that his snuff movie – with Mrs Peel as both star and victim – will grant him immortality as a filmmaker; while there's no indication of how his magnum opus "The Death of Emma Peel" is going to fit together – obviously, as he is quite mad – there's something of a Peeping Tom-by-way-of-Sunset Boulevard about the episode, as deaths on camera are punctuated by past-it stars of yesteryear slumming it for their director (von Stroheim was of course, in Sunset Boulevard, but acting, long since unable to command a directing gig) thanks to a clause in their contract.


ZZ von Schnerk: The destruction of Mrs Emma Peel, conceived by ZZ von Schnerk. Written by ZZ von Schnerk. Directed by ZZ von Schnerk. A ZZ von Schnerk production!

They're Damita Syn (Isa Miranda), who starred for Schnerk in The Bad Bad Lady, and Stewart Kirby (Wyngarde, 4.21: A Touch of Brimstone, of course). The former put me slightly in mind of Madeline Kahn in Mel Brooks' '70s movies, while Wyngarde embodies the louche old luvvie to a tee. The thing is, though, once we've been set up (Emma is lured into a trap, gassed in a taxi – Wyngarde is the driver, having earlier filmed her while posing as a clergyman – and awakes on set), the encounters with the duo, while Schnerk is surreptitiously filming her, rely on the quality of the "set pieces", which are variable and/or repetitive. There's a great opening number of the wedding of Mrs Emma Peel, as Kirby embodies a nightmare vicar, one part chinlessly ineffectual, the other vicious, pushing her down a hill in giddy slow motion. She rights herself only to see a hearse and "RIP Emma Peel" – the accompanying gravestones all bear her name.


Policeman:He's very good, I'll give him that. Specialises in corpses, does he?
Mrs PeelHe can't do anything else.

There's then a succession of altercations with Kirby: as Alexander to Emma’s "wicked little sister" (Syn's mother coshes an initially bemused Emma on the head after she makes short work of Alex), a bandit who "dies" bloodily to her gunshot in a western saloon, a WWI German brandishing a machine gun who causes her to hightail it, an American Indian with a tomahawk, and a gangster with a tommy gun. The latter kills David Lodge's policeman extra, whose presence is equivalent to that of Kenneth Colley and Ronald Lacey in the earlier and later house trap episodes, particularly so since he meets a nasty end. 


Lodge is a likeable presence (he previously played policemen in The Naked Truth and After the Fox, as well as Jelly Knight in Two Way Stretch), and as in those, we initially wonder if he's part of the plan, although it turns out not to be so ("Very well. I will write him into the script, and then write him out"). The policeman is needed, as there's never a danger of a true weird-out or surrealism in Epic, a point where you aren't quite clear what is going on; during the plod scenes, until Lodge reveals who he is, there's a welcome swing towards obscurity.


ZZ von SchnerkYou are not feeling the part, Mrs Peel.
Mrs PeelI have a feeling I will be feeling it.

The Wyngarde costuming & overacting business is pretty much exhausted by this point, as his confederate soldier proves, so it's as well that the scenery shifts for the grand climax, a Poe-esque affair complete with advancing pendulum (Emma is tied down, naturally) and Kirby and Syn – well, more Universal horror than Poe – planning to "experiment on living tissue".


Curiously, Emma doesn't appear to be taking it very seriously ("Gloat all you like, but just remember, I'm the star of this picture"), almost as if she expects to be rescued. Which she promptly is, by Steed, who aside from sussing who Kirby was (he recognises his voice from a Hamlet performance) has, like those other Cathy/Emma-centric episodes, been relegated to an offscreen role (as the pan to a "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch..." sign on set, before the cut to Emma's apartment, suggests). He's given some nice moments, though, such as posing as his stand-in's corpse and having Emma break a "fake" chair over his head.


SteedAnd luckily, I got here in the nick of time.
Mrs PeelOtherwise, did you enjoy the picture?
SteedOh, not bad. At least it had a happy ending.

I also rather liked that Steed removes Kirby's wig and glasses before plugging him. At one point, Emma, having been told "I will make you famous, Mrs Peel. I will make you a star… posthumously"is surrounded by an animated logo and elicits an MGM lion "Rowrrr". As inspired as these moments are, one rather wishes there were more of them, instead of Wyngarde’s frantic mugging.


SteedUnbridled passions… Why don’t we just spend the evening at home?
Mrs PeelWhy not? Let’s get back to my apartment.

The coda is easily the best of the season do far, reeling off a list of movies to see on a night out (I was Napoleon's Nanny), including a nod to Fellini (Lasagne 6 ½ ), a critique of the same ("I walked out three-eighths of the way through"), and reference to an old Kirby movie (Nights of Abandon), before opting to stay in. Except that they aren't in Emma’s flat; she kicks – breaks – the fourth – second – wall, as they're actually on the set where she awoke earlier. Which is obviously actually her standard set at Elstree (they missed a trick not having his place next door); this sleight also occurred with the street set outside her house earlier, only at night. Another neat touch is the break with Steed doing the summoning at the outset ("Sorry Steed, I'm needed – elsewhere"), culminating in him glancing at the camera. There's a lot of fun to be had with Epic then, but it isn't quite von Schnerk's, or Clemens', masterpiece. 



























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

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .