The film opens with John Steed (Ralph Fiennes), agent of The Ministry, in a training course which he finishes successfully. Next, we see Dr. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) at home where she receives a phone call telling her to go to a gentlemen's club - no women allowed - where she meets Steed for the first time. The two head off to the Ministry to meet Mother (Jim Broadbent), who informs them the Prospero project - an attempt to influence the weather - was sabotaged apparently by Emma Peel. Dr. Peel claims she is innocent, but she is sent to work alongside Steed to find the real culprit. Mother's off-sider, Father (Fiona Shaw), claims Peel suffers from a mental disease. They go off to visit Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery), an old ally of The Ministry. He takes an instant liking to Peel, as they both share a love of weather.
Steed and Emma follow a lead to Wonderland Weather - a business that artificially creates heat or rain with a special machine - where they discover two dead men in teddy bear suits. The members of a secret organisation — led by De Wynter — all wear teddy bear suits to disguise their identities. One of them, however, looks exactly like Emma Peel. Steed arrives in time to save Peel, as the double jumps off a roof and disappears.
Steed and Emma go off to visit De Wynter at his mansion but are attacked by mechanical bees. Alice (Eileen Atkins), a Ministry agent, helps them to flee; nevertheless, De Wynter captures Emma who then tries to escape but finds herself trapped due to the mansion's ever-changing floor plan. She smashes her way through a window, and Steed rescues her. Back at Steed's apartment, however, Peel is arrested by Father, as Steed visits Invisible Jones (Patrick MacNee), a man inside The Ministry, to investigate the meaning of a map Steed found at Wonderland Weather.
After viewing some photos of failed genetic experiments including cloning (revealing that the other Emma Peel is a clone), Steed determines Father is working with De Wynter. Father and Peel's clone capture Peel but are confronted by Mother, who is then incapacitated. De Wynter, controlling Prospero and the weather, confronts the world's leaders. He boasts that he controls the weather, and they will have to buy the weather from him, will pay a lot for it, and will have until midnight to pay.
Father and Peel's clone take Emma to a hot air balloon, where Emma escapes during a snowstorm. Father and the clone perish when the balloon crashes and explodes. Invisible Jones determines De Wynter is using the Prospero instruments on a secret island, and Peel and Steed arrive at the island to stop him. Emma defuses the Prospero device just as a hurricane forms over London. Steed duels De Wynter and eventually gains the upper hand by impaling him with his own cane, causing De Wynter to be struck by a bolt of lightning. Emma and Steed escape just as the base self-destructs, and share champagne on the roof of a building with Mother.Ralph Fiennes as John Steed, a British Ministry agent
Uma Thurman as Emma Peel, Scientist, Ministry agent
Sean Connery as Sir August De Wynter, a weather scientist and a terrorist
Jim Broadbent as Mother, Director of the Ministry
Fiona Shaw as Father, Deputy Director of the Ministry, ally of Sir August
Eddie Izzard as Bailey, Sir August's henchman
Eileen Atkins as Alice, a Ministry Agent
Carmen Ejogo as Brenda, a Ministry Agent, Mother's aide
John Wood as Trubshaw, Steed's tailor
Keeley Hawes as Tamara, Agent of Sir August
Patrick Macnee (voice) as Invisible Jones, a Ministry Agent
Lorraine McBride as Nun
Warner Bros., the film's distributor, refused to allow any early press-screenings for movie reviewers that most releases attempt to generate interest in; such a decision is often made when a studio and/or distributor knows a film will not be received well and pre-release reviews would only be negative. The film was originally scheduled to open earlier in June 1998 but was pushed back until August, often referred to as the late-summer "dumping ground" for films that are not felt to be strong or worthy enough to open on the more lucrative holiday weekends in early summer. The film was a notable failure at the box office, grossing only $48 million worldwide, compared to its budget of $60 million. Mick LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle, warned against poor editing and direction, explaining,
There's.......some business involving a dead ringer for Emma going around causing trouble, and there's some mention of the word "cloning." Then all talk of that is dropped. Everything is dropped. After a slow opening, the 90-minute movie jolts into climax mode. What happened to the middle? Clearly, this wasn't just edited but gutted. No doubt they did us all a favor, but it doesn't help. Instead of just being a bad picture, the missing middle makes The Avengers a bad and weird and strangely off picture. One example: There's never a moment when Emma and Steed realize who the villain is. At first, they don't know. Next, they're in a titanic battle to the death. At one point, Emma is shackled and floating around in a hot-air balloon. I don't know how she got there. I must have blinked.
Due to internal wrangling at Warner Bros., the decision was made to vastly cut down the running time after test screenings, reducing the 115-minute film to 89 minutes, sacrificing much coherence and continuity in the process. Key scenes removed included the opening sequence in which "Mrs. Peel" infiltrates and destroys the Prospero science installation; early trailers included the scene where she says the words "How now brown cow" in a false telephone box to gain admittance. The movie was originally scored by composer Michael Kamen, who included the original Avengers theme; however he was unable to re-score the film after the radical editing, so was forced to drop out. The recut version of the film was scored by Joel McNeely. The original script was used for the film's novelization and included all the material which were first shot and then removed from the film. The original cut has yet to surface; Warner Bros. has no plans to release a director's cut or special edition in any form, despite that director Jeremiah Chechik has offered to recut the film for free.
The film was panned by critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 5%, based on 82 reviews, with an average rating of 3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A TV spinoff that lacks enough energy to spin, The Avengers is an ineptly written, woefully miscast disaster." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 12 out of 100, based on 19 reviews, indicating "overwhelming dislike".
The purists disliked it for its disrespect to the original series (particularly the introduction of a romance between Steed and Peel — a carefully ambiguous subject in the series). Newcomers were lost by all of the misfired attempts to capture the mood of the original. Rod Dreher in the New York Post called the film "a big fat gob of maximum crapulosity, the kind of shallow, stupid, big-budget cow pile that smells of Joel Schumacher", referencing the previous summer's likewise poorly received Batman & Robin, which also starred Uma Thurman. David Bianculli stated, "This Avengers film is so horrendously, painfully, and thoroughly awful that it gives other cinematic clunkers like Ishtar and Howard the Duck a good name." Jay Boyer in the Orlando Sentinel said "The Avengers is, without a doubt, the worst movie of the summer". Reception in Britain was equally hostile. The Birmingham Post stated "The Avengers is being slated by critics as the worst film ever made - such a turkey, says one, that the makers should have handed distribution to (mass turkey producer) Bernard Matthews". Alan Jones in The Radio Times stated "The cult 1960s TV series gets royally shafted by Hollywood in this stunningly designed blockbuster that's stunningly awful in every other department... Terrible special effects and zero chemistry between Fiennes and Thurman make this notorious disaster a total waste of everyone's time and energy."
The Avengers was nominated for that year's Razzie Award for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor (Sean Connery), Worst Actress (Uma Thurman), Worst Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Worst Screen Couple (Fiennes and Thurman), and Worst Original Song ("Storm"), winning only one trophy for Worst Remake or Sequel. Several critics, especially in the UK, noted that the American production team fatally misunderstood the symbols of "Britishness" central to The Avengers series, such as the inclusion of an inexplicable gadget on the dashboard of Steed's Bentley which appeared to dispense tea, with milk already added.
Commenting on the truncated released cut of the film, New York Times's Janet Maslin noted, "At a pared-down, barely rational 90 minutes, "The Avengers" is short but not short enough."
In 2003, Total Film magazine voted Fiennes and Thurman in The Avengers as "The Worst Movie Double Act Of All Time".