2019 | rated PG-13 | starring Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart | directed by Elizabeth Banks | 1 hr 58 mins |
In the 2nd film reboot of the 1976 series Charlie’s Angels, screenwriter/director Elizabeth Banks approaches the idea of female spies like she’s invented something. We are supposed to be in slack-jawed amazement over seeing a woman kicking, punching, fighting bad guys and using spy gadgets. Banks, pandering harder than a country song, even opens the movie with an ultra-cheesy random montage of random girls surfing, doing archery and other sports. We’ll get to how Bank’s glossed-up 40-year-old gender politics fit right into a new mold of every other female action movie coming down the Sony-lead, post-Weinstein Hollywood pipe in a moment, but first the most important question: Is the new Charlie’s Angels fun? And the answer is, kind of.
There is one truly unique thing this movie brings to the table that makes it worth watching. It’s the first time I think I have ever seen Kristen Stewart really enjoying herself. In Seberg we noted how Stewart, for reasons unknown, gets away with being completely detached in movies she visibly has no interest in and is very good in movies that she does. Yet, even in those movies – look at Personal Shopper – she is always still saddled with a character that is insecure and morose. Stewart actually looks like she’s having fun here with the movie’s most interesting character. I really enjoyed her in this.
Another unpopular opinion: I’m not a fan of the 2000 McG Angels adaptation that everyone has suddenly gotten nostalgic over. McG is a hack who has never not made crap. While Banks’ adaptation rises to a level of forgettable mediocrity I probably do prefer that – the film seems to have a base level of competence keeping the investment from embarrassing itself – than McG’s hyper-stylized, aggressively cartoonish parody.
The 2019 version upgrades the Angels from LA PIs to globe-trotting super-spies. An engineer in Hamburg, Germany, Elena (Naomi Scott, Aladdin) works at a company that has invented a powerful Alexa-like device called Callisto that, when not turning on lights can be reprogrammed to “act as an EMP on the human body” killing people with seizures and strokes. Attempting to blow the whistle on the company, an assassin targets Elena who runs into the arms of two Townsend Company spies – master of disguise heiress Sabina (Stewart) and kickboxing Jane (Ella Balinska) – and their handler Bosley (Elizabeth Banks). Soon Elena becomes the tech arm of the trio as they chase down stolen Callisto’s being sold on the black market.
The movie opens with a bit of mind-melting irony, a dialog exchange where Sabina (yes, not Sabrina, Sabina – that’s how obnoxious Banks’ script is) muses about how unattractive women walk through the world unnoticed, almost invisible, while saying that invisibility is good in her profession and using her sexuality to seduce a target. What? This cognitive dissonance is happening more and more in movies where forced social political commentary tugs at the needs of the story. While McG’s movie was a florescent visual nightmare, Banks (who previously helmed the equally unremarkable Pitch Perfect sequels) doesn’t gift the film with a visual style at all. It looks like a TV show, with close-ups and random, empty run-of-the-mill fight scenes. Maybe that was the intention, but it’s not why we make movie adaptations of TV shows. Compare this movie to Susanna Fogel’s fun globe-trotting lady spy adventure The Spy Who Dumped Me, which is both funnier and has exciting, stylishly arranged action set pieces.
The Sony Pandering Female Action Movie – not to be confused with a genuine female-led action movies like Dumped Me, Underworld, Resident Evil, Wanted, Salt, The Invisible Man and so on – has now been seen enough we can tick off a few tropes of this fashionable trend. We often see many of these in these movies, but Banks manages to cram all of them in Charlie’s Angels. Here are just a few tropes for your bingo card:
- Conversation about consent – check
- Conversation about how women can do anything they want – check
- Evil male villain originally set up as a hero/mentor – check
- Gender flip of an existing male character – check
- Tease of female villain swiped away for male villain (see Doctor Poison in Wonder Woman ) – check
- Nerdy tech women not nerdy at all – check
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg Hero Worship – check
- Author insert as an important character – check
The strangest decision Banks makes with the script – the decision that tips off that she’d rather make a gender-flipped Kingsman movie than an actual Charlie’s Angels movie – is the way the story is built around an audience surrogate (Naomi Scott) being introduced to the Angels via a Men in Black structure. Most of the movie is Elena being brought into the world of the Angels, the secrets of which mostly consist of a masseuse who serves fresh fruit and cocktails at their safe house and tattoos that let them communicate on missions (somehow). In the Global Townsend world Bosley isn’t a name but a rank and everyone can be a Bosley, even Michael Strahan. Angels 2019 disappointingly conforms a series about female friendship into a much more conventional origin story that keeps all 3 women from working together for most of the running time in order to set up future sequels.
This movie should have been light, poppy, effervescent fun. Instead Elizabeth Banks takes Charlie’s Angels and burdens it down with all sorts of agendas. Not just it’s self-conscious feminism but it works hard to turn Charlie’s Angels into Mission: Impossible or Kingsman. Another globe-trotting spy film indistinguishable from any other studio action flick. Aside from what Kristen Stewart is bringing to the action, it has no personality.
It also has no ending. It follows another odd trend where the movie just stops, cuts to credits and then, over the credits, starts back up again and finally comes to an ending in the mid-credit sequence it should have just ended the movie. I can’t be the only one who finds this kind of dragging out of the story unsatisfying. Bring the story to an end and end it. Cut to credits.