And before Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk et al teamed up, there were....The Avengers.
We're talking John Steed here, who debuted on TV in 1961 - two years before the Marvel Comics superhero crew arrived on the comic book scene. The Avengers TV series was a huge international hit but our attention is actually on the ill-fated 1998 movie version.
This incarnation of The Avengers featured Ralph Fiennes as Steed and Uma Thurman as Emma Peel - British secret service agents battling a villainous Sean Connery and his destructive weather-controlling machine. The movie cost a small fortune, had highly-regarded talent in front and behind the camera, yet wasn't shown to the press before release - never a good sign. The film was soundly ridiculed and audiences stayed away in their droves.
Being a long-term fan of the TV series, I was there at the cinema on opening day to see it. As the end credits rolled, I remember leaving with a heavy sense of disappointment. There was some good stuff in the movie - a few imaginative set pieces, the sumptuous production design, Connery clearly relishing his over-the-top role. The surreal SF nature of the TV series had been retained; weaponised robot wasps pursue Steed and Emma down country lanes and there's a bizarre scene with Connery chairing a boardroom meeting with his accomplices - all dressed in Dayglo teddy bear outfits. Despite these bursts of imagination, however, the film came across as little more than a disjointed 90 minute trailer for another Avengers film. A different, perhaps better movie.
Some time after the critical roars of disapproval had died down, this turned out to the case. It emerged that after some disastrous early test screenings, some 30 minutes of the original version of the film had been hastily excised. Coherent plot be damned - the running time had to be reduced by any means necessary. Whole sequences were excised, with little or no effort expended to make sure that what remained actually made sense. There's evidence of these chopped scenes in the trailer - that "Emma Peel in a phone box/How Now Brown Cow" bit is part of a whole pre-credits sequence that was dropped.
Will be ever get to see a restored version of The Avengers? Director Jeremiah Chechik has gone on record saying that he'd happily revisit the project and spend the necessary time in the edit suite, reassembling his original cut. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers don't appear to be quite so enthusiastic. It looks increasingly unlikely that we'll ever see the full, 115 minute version given a proper release.
So are we missing out on some lost masterpiece? Probably not - there are some things wrong with The Avengers that surely can't be fixed, even with an extra half-hour's worth of footage. The total lack of chemistry between the two leads for one, and Thurman's stilted British accent. But we are still only seeing 75% of what was originally completed of The Avengers...and the thought of finally watching the missing 25% is an attractive one.