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“Once Upon a Time, There Were Three More Little Girls”: Another Take at ‘Charlie’s Angels’

Warning; Spoilers Ahead!

This time in Toxic Nostalgia we hop in the way back machine and travel all the way to. . . 2019? Recently, writer, director and actress, Elizabeth Banks, during an interview with Rolling Stone, expressed her disappointment with how her revival of the Charlie’s Angels was received. She complained that, “so much of the story that the media wanted to tell about Charlie’s Angels was that it was some feminist manifesto.”  The implication of her comments is that the movie didn’t do so well because of some sort of blowback against the #MeToo movement.

I remember seeing a trailer for the movie before its release and thinking that it looked kind of slow and boring for an action/comedy and was left uninspired to go see it in theaters.

So, let’s see if one, or both these things is true or if maybe this is one of those films that should be given more credit than it originally got?

Now I should start off by saying that I was slightly hopeful for this film because I was a big fan of the early 2000’s films led by Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore. And I’m generally a fan of Banks too. But this incarnation fell flat. Not that it was terrible but more like it was just okay.

The film opens with a blonde wigged Sabina Wilson (played by Kristen Stewart of the Twilight franchise fame) on an undercover mission in a swanky penthouse somewhere in Thailand. She is there to recover money that was meant to aid women and children from Australian Jonny, a scumbag millionaire who underestimates Sabina, thinking of her as just some bimbo he met through an online dating app. They have a conversation about the place of women in society and Sabina easily seduces her quarry who is too tied up in his lecherous desires to realize he’s being physically tied up. Yada, yada, yada… a bunch of Angels burst onto the scene to take out Johnny’s henchmen and take the funds back. Chief among them is Jane Kano, played by Ella Balinski and Patrick Stewart as Bosley.

At this point I was worried that this was going to be the first of many speeches we’re going to get on how powerful and amazing women are. Not that I don’t believe in equality and female empowerment but I’m looking for a fun, well told story. Show me strong women through actions, not bad dialogue. But my fears were unfounded. Although after the opening sequence we get an introductory montage of girls doing amazing things like sky diving and rocking out on an electric guitar that isn’t plugged in, the movie quickly moves into the main plot.

The film shifts from Thailand to Hamburg, Germany. We meet Elena (Naomi Scott) a brilliant scientist who is frustrated by her know-it-all boss, Peter Fleming (the always solid Nat Faxon) who ignores her warnings about their company’s revolutionary new product, Calysto. The device is going to revolutionize energy usage and make a lot of money for Brock Industries, who Elena works for, but it can also cause life threatening seizures. So, despite safety concerns, Fleming wants to be first to market with something that may . . . kill its users??? He also talks down to Elena and invades her physical space by touching her hands. Basically, he’s a prick.

Now to Los Angeles where Professor X- sorry, I mean Bosley, has his compound of trainees. It is his last day as an active agent. All the other agents are “Bosleys” as well, including the film’s writer and director, Banks. And they are there to toast him and celebrate his storied career as he prepares to ride off into the sunset. Through the magic of photoshop, the audience is meant to understand that Stewart’s Bosley character is the same man played previously by Bill Murray in movies and David Doyle on television. This will come up later in the review as my main contention with this film but for now, let me move on.

Calysto is demonstrated for Elena’s employer Alexander Brok, who is played by Sam Claflin (best known as Finnick Odair in the Hunger Games movies). The device luckily doesn’t kill anyone but Elena is frustrated that she can’t get one-on-one time with Brok to warn him of Calysto’s unstable nature. Luckily, she has been gifted with contact information to the Angel’s organization (not that she knows what they are) and she goes into full-on whistleblower mode.

In Paris (yes, they really want you to understand that the Angels have an international reach), stereotypically stuffy Brit, Jane is training with yet another Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) and getting a little bit of character development.

She’s itching to get back into action. Much to her chagrin she finds that she is being teamed up with American counterpart Sabina and we get to see them mix like oil and water as Stewart tries to deliver some comedic dialogue about Hamburg and hamburgers that comes across flat and anything but funny. The first mission of this new partnership is to watch Bosley’s back as he meets up with Elena in a café to find out what she knows.

If there’s one thing that Banks may have gleaned from the successful 2000’s version of Angels it might be that you need a great antagonist for your heroes to battle. Akin to Crispin Glover’s thin man, we are introduced to Hodak (Jonathan Tucker, who was amazing in season one of City on the Hill). Now we’re into the fun stuff. In the café the group is attacked by Hodak, for reasons unknown, leading to a solid hand-to-hand fight between the assassin and Jane. This is followed by a great car chase, and I am a sucker for a car chase done right. Unfortunately for the good guys/gals Bosley takes a dirt nap and the bad guy gets away.

As the Angels are forced to deal with loss following this action sequence, Bank’s Bosley comes in to rally the troops.

They go to a safe house where Elena reveals that Calypso can be weaponized/hacked into an EMP that can be triggered from anywhere. This allows it to be used to assassinate people and make it appear as if the victim died of natural causes. They enter Elena’s workplace to try to retrieve the technology. There’s a slow plodding game of cat and mouse with the security force. The angels are always one step ahead and never seem like they’re in trouble of being caught so the whole scene lacks any real sense of drama or urgency.

The standout among the Angels is Jane. She comes across as the stuffy Brit at first. But unlike Stewart’s spacey Sabina and the always unsure Elena, her character shows many sides and is given the most to do. Her flirtations with Elena’s co-worker, Langston, don’t seem forced as Balinska and Noah Centineo (The Recruit, Black Adam) have an easy, natural chemistry with each other.

By this point, Charlie’s Angels has gotten about as good as it’s going to get.

With a runtime of almost two hours, it kind of plods on. The fight sequences get less exciting and move at a slow pace. The action seemingly drains out of this action comedy that doesn’t bring the comedy either. My wife calls me a comedy snob and maybe she’s right but I defy anyone to show me the laughs are in this one. I mean, I know where the laughs are supposed to go but there’s nothing there. I think part of the reason why is that Banks was also one of the co-writers on the script. I felt like something was off about the “jokes” on this one and I didn’t realize what it was until she starts delivering some quips later in the film. The other actresses are just doing their best Elizabeth Banks impression. They all have the same deadpan delivery as the director has used in her own career and it feels worn out when it’s spread out across the cast.

Also, I don’t think this was the right project for Kristen Stewart.

I liked her in the Twilight movies just fine. (Shut up, dude. My wife made me watch them.) But she falls flat here. Is she supposed to be one of the Ninja Turtles or something? Sabina is supposed to be some goofy, surfer dude-like stoner but at the same time a highly trained agent who can bring down international crime organizations? It’s a weird mix and a stretch to ask the audience to believe. The character gets no real depth and is left to serve as comic relief most of the time and since that comedy is lacking, so is Sabina.

And then there is the other Stewart.  Patrick Stewart’s Bosley is revealed to be the big bad in this movie. He can’t live with the thought of being put out to pasture and has started his own criminal organization, betraying the Angels in a quest for world domination. This kind of sucks. Whether you’re a big fan of this franchise or not, it seems lazy to take a character with 50 years of continuity as one of the good guys and suddenly say, oh no, he’s really a monster. (Besides, if anybody was going to make Bosley a villain, it should have been Bill Murray. Just ask Lucy Liu.)  Not only does it spit in the face of longtime fans but it also sets up the end of the film as a battle against a villain who is almost 80 years old. Your options are kind of limited when you fight a senior citizen in an action sequence. And although he somehow subdues the much younger, former Angel in Banks, it’s not that compelling of a fight scene. In fact, when the chips are down and the heroes must pull out the win, we get one of the lamest endings to an action flick ever.

As with my previous review of Hudson Hawk, I must note that this movie didn’t technically bomb if you look at the budget, somewhere in the 55 million range vs its gross which was a little over 73 million. But these numbers probably don’t take into account the marketing budget and it really flopped in the United States (U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!!) where it only made 17.8 million. Compare that to the 2000 film of the same name which made 264 million on a budget of 93 (Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore were much bigger stars than any of the 2019 cast and needed to get PAID.) and you can only imagine that those involved were disappointed by the flick’s lack of success.

So, was this a man hating film that alienated half the world’s population? Or, as I originally expected, was it more of a snoozer? I would say my initial assessment, based on the trailer, was spot on. There were parts of Charlie’s Angels I liked but not enough that I would recommend watching it. And that’s a shame because we’ve seen good things done with this property in the past. As far as the messaging of female empowerment, yeah, it gets a little heavy handed at times. (And don’t even get me started on the revelation about Charlie “himself.”) But I think if anyone did boycott the movie with that as their main contention it would be kind of ridiculous. It’s important for young girls to get good messaging in their media.

But what’s always important, first and foremost, is making a good movie before you think about the message it sends. This was an okay. Some good scenes, but mostly forgettable.

 

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