Charlie’s Angels (2019)
Sworn to secrecy, bound by sisterhood.
I was legit psyched for this soft reboot/ modern update of Charlie’s Angels — it looked fun and edgy, and sported a great cast — although she’s polarizing, I’m a fan of K-Stew. It’s also directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Elizabeth Banks who, to date, hasn’t yet helmed a dud — her Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) is probably the best in the series. Not to mention, I enjoyed the campy, leave-your-brain-at-the-door Charlie’s Angels duology from the early 2000s, directed by McG and starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu in butt-kicking mode, which really understood, and captured the smart and sexy vibe of the ’70s TV show on which these movies are based.
The new film begins with the line, ‘I think women can do anything,’ uttered by Kristen Stewart’s wisecracking wild card, Angel Sabina Wilson, while on a bogus date with her latest unsuspecting male target, international smuggler Jonny Smith (Chris Pang, who gives one of the film’s most spirited performances). This opening line quickly becomes a drawn-out monologue about how women ‘have so many talents,’ yada, yada, yada. Okay, I get it. Women can do anything men can — I’m all for equality. Then there’s some action, which, really, is what we’ve came here to see — people get shot, and there’s some passable hand-to-hand combat — before Patrick Stewart’s John Bosley waltzes in and reacquaints us with the fictitious Townsend Agency and the investigative Angels. And away we go, right? Wrong. If the opening lecture wasn’t enough, we’re then bashed over the head with a pointless montage featuring anonymous young girls, female teens and older ladies doing random things — like, you know, swimming, typing on computers, and riding bicycles — before cutting back to the story. It’s here that I began to worry — is this going to be some kind of forced #MeToo feminism BS? Surely not. Banks is not that kind of filmmaker.
Well, folks, I’m afraid she is.
Charlie’s Angels is another painfully safe, by-the-numbers studio movie, plugging equality rather than telling a gripping story — and by equality, I mean it’s an all-woman show. For a franchise that’s already so female-heavy, Banks gives the IP an unnecessary feminist-makeover, gender-swapping all the pre-existing males into females — there’s a third act ‘spoiler’ that reveals Charlie to be a woman (with a simulated male voice, of course) which serves no purpose what so ever, narratively. Alas, if you think this male-hating, women-rule-the-world slant is my only gripe here, you’re sorely mistaken. Let me go on.
Written by Banks, from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos, Beauty and the Beast (2017), and playwright David Auburn, The Lake House (2006), the film starts out by showing us just how international the Townsend Agency has become; there are multiple teams of different Angels guided by multiple Bosleys, who have a roster of intelligent, highly trained women all over the globe risking their lives daily in order to save mankind — or should I say woman-kind. With Patrick Stewart’s Bosley retiring after 40 years of service, handing the torch over to Banks’ Rebekah as the new Boz, it’s time for a fresh team to be assembled.
The first recruit is ex-delinquent Sabina, who’s already an Angel, paired with former MI-6 Euro agent Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) after her Bosley, Edgar (Djimon Hounsou), is killed in action during a meeting that goes south, our heroines ambushed by a silent assassin known as Hodak (Jonathan Tucker) — one of the movie’s better action scenes. The last lady to receive her wings is the subject of this unfortunate rendezvous, scientist Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott). A key programmer working on an energy conservation device known as ‘Calisto,’ Elena becomes involved after discovering that (in the wrong hands) her device can be weaponized, used as an EMP. You see, it can trigger fatal seizures, a flaw brought to the attention of the company’s sleazy head of development, Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) — yep, we see the guy pick his nose whilst ignoring Elena’s pleas to fix the prototype. It turns out that tech corporation Brock Industries, the people behind Calisto, may have been onto Elena, having tried to silence her before she exposed her superior, Fleming, to the Townsend Agency. So, the race is on, with the Angels determined to uncover the crooked individuals who plan on selling the deadly McGuffin on the black market.
As a fun action-comedy, Charlie’s Angels misses its mark — unlike, say, 2018’s The Spy Who Dumped Me, which got plenty of bullseyes. For one, the comedy almost always falls flat, Banks’ script filled with next to no laughs — there are lame jokes about bullet-proof bras, women’s love of cheese and wine, and the struggles of dating in one’s 40s. Bar a decent Birdman quip, the comedy is as dry as Rebekah’s love life.
The fight scenes also lack excitement as these ‘exceptional women’ are pit against non-threatening, bumbling male goons. So really, what makes them so exceptional? A hero is only as good as their villain. There’s a bait-and-switch scene where the Angels effortlessly outsmart a team of ‘supposedly’ highly-trained security guards that poses more questions than answers. And even when you think things might get a little tough for our leading ladies, the tension dissipates; for instance, when Sabina is forced to confront Hodak after a road pursuit, he simply decides to hobble away because he has a few cuts and bruises — boo, hoo!
As for the action set pieces, most of them are clumsily staged (when they’re actually happening) — admittedly, there’s an okay fight sequence set in a quarry, but nothing compared to the over-the-top silliness of the previous Angels films — with all of the highlights spoiled in the trailers, including the demise of one of the film’s chief bad guys. On top of all this, the plot is overly contrived and lacks logic, the screenplay filled with spy movie clichés — think globe-trotting (we jump from Rio de Janeiro to Berlin and then to Hamburg for no other reason than to boast some sweeping panoramas) and predictable double-crosses — yawn! And, to make matters worse, this tripe concludes with what is perhaps the most anti-climactic finale of 2019 — if you aren’t asleep by the time the obligatory dance number rolls in, you’ll be snoozing before the end credits.
There are, however, a handful of bright spots, but not enough to compensate for the countless blunders and bumbles. The film, at least, connects nicely to the former Charlie’s Angels entries (both the 2000 movies and the 1976 to ’81 telly series), paying homage to what’s come before — it works as the third installment of the Diaz, Barrymore, Liu-starring vehicle, occupying the same cinematic universe, but also succeeds as a simple reset, introducing this generation (Full Throttle hit screens almost 20 years ago) to the world of Charlie and ‘her’ Angels. It’s a shame that, at its core, this ill-conceived rehash dishonors the material. I’m clutching at straws here, but its theme song, ‘Don’t Call Me Angel,’ performed by singers Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey, is pretty rad, too!
The casting is also right on target, this iconic female trio much more dynamic and diverse than their previous incarnations. Bummer they get bupkis to do. While 2000’s Independent Women weren’t all white — Lucy Liu’s Alex was the first Asian to be inducted as an Angel — this new cluster of ‘lady spies’ is far more multicultural, ticking all the right boxes when it comes to female representation. There’s mixed ethnicity with Scott, who’s a blend of Gujarati Indian and British, with Balinska having African-Caribbean descent, while Stewart’s all-American white girl carries the flag for the LGBT — and, as stated earlier, I’m all for equality, and by extention, inclusion.
Stewart, though, is way too smug and unlikable, despite delivering some smirk-worthy non-sequiturs — the script’s fault, not hers — while Scott’s Elena, who works as the audience surrogate, does the best she can as your Everywoman; though it’s difficult to digest her transformation from wunderkind computer whizz to kick-ass crime-fighter almost overnight. Balinska’s flirty and fierce Jane probably fares best, thanks to a subplot involving an old intelligence contact in Istanbul. Unfortunately, as a unit, these well-trained wonder women lack genuine chemistry. There’s also a stack of useless, blink-and-you’ll-miss-em cameos from female stars like Ronda Rousey, Hailee Steinfeld, and Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart.
Oh, there are men in this too, most, however, are depicted as either dim-witted, horney, arrogant, helpless, or as assholes, with the only nice guy in the film (who’s both capable and clever) being a man of color — so, it does a bang-up job painting a pretty grim picture of men in general. We also get a bunch of ugly male stereotypes: there’s Langston (Noah Centineo), the handsome nerd; Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin), the greedy corporate billionaire; Hodak, the tattooed killer; and what James Bond rip-off would be complete without its Q-type gadget guy, Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez), who’s more of a slave to the girls rather than an actual researcher/ developer, cooking their meals and giving them massages on request. And although Patrick Stewart looks to be having a giddy good time as John Bosley, his arc totally shits on the character’s legacy!
It’s clear that director Banks — who also plays Rebekah, the first Angel ever to be promoted to Bosley status — understands comedy, but Charlie’s Angels ’19 is both a mega misfire and a missed opportunity, coming across an as lazy Mission: Impossible meets Kingsman but with designer heals — there’s a preposterous amount of costume changes throughout. There are moments when it almost feels as though this should be good, but the blatant, in-your-face girl power totally sucks the fun out of the proceedings; remember, at the time, the 1976 television series expanded viewers’ perceptions of the jobs that women could perform and the skills they possessed, encouraging girls everywhere to broaden their scope when it came to employment — minus all the man-bashing stuff. Given that it’s grossed a paltry $27M on its opening weekend worldwide, you can file this one in under ‘failed Sony reboot,’ joining the ranks of this year’s Men in Black: International and Ghostbusters 2016, two other *surprise, surprise* feminist-leaning flicks. Anyone see a trend?
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by S-Littner