Charlie's Angels (2019)
Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981) was one of the few properties from the past that empowered women, while at the same time taking advantage of a bit of objectification. The property was exploited with good awareness of its campiness with Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003). It would seem only ripe that in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up that the material would be visited again.
Charlie’s Angels (2019) is the newest reboot/sequel in the series, that visits the rotating cast of “angel” agents serving the spy agency headed by the mysterious Charlie. This film’s plot revolves around systems engineer Elena (Naomi Scott) who invents a powering device that can be exploited to cause fatal electroshocks. Naturally a nefarious organization wants to kidnap Elena and utilize her knowledge to weaponize her invention. Thus the “angels” Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) are tapped to protect her. A cast of various Boselys also make appearances (Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou, and Patrick Stewart).
The film was the follow-up directing gig for Elizabeth Banks after her successful debut on Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). Banks takes on many more roles in Charlie’s Angels becoming a significant supporting character as well as producer and co-writer. There is a clear intention from Banks of turning the property into an inspiring franchise for young girls, and yet she seems to stumble amongst her good intentions.
This iteration of Charlie’s Angels seems to be constantly torn between what it wants to be. There is a slew of villains sprinkled around the film, of which the narrative seems to be incapable of choosing one; this doesn’t make so much for mystery as confusion for viewers. There is also a tonal indecision. Charlie’s Angels has always been a property which indulged in tackiness and extravagance, and while there are certain hints of that in this film, there also seem to be inexplicable moments of seriousness. This causes certain happenings of the film to clash inappropriately. One big problem here was with the violence, which was implicitly brutal at some points but seemed to point fun at murders in the next. In one specific example an accidental death occurs that seems to impact Elena and fill her with guilt, however, the execution and subsequent lines from other characters indicate this event to be funny. The result is that the actors are playing their specific scenes completely differently. This would work if the film were a satire like Deadpool (2016), but the film seems to be flitting between taking itself seriously as a spy film and spoofing its IP.
The clearest example of the indecisions in this film comes from the three main cast-members. Kristen Stewart is easily the best thing in the film, as she is able to understand the campiness and overblown aspects of the story best. Her presence on screen would garner some of the few laughs in the theater. Naomi Scott seemed to toe the line between buying into her character’s arc, and playing her tongue-in-cheek. Finally Ella Balinska seems to think she is in a much darker and emotionally grittier film than she really is; the result is an actually good performance for the seeming wrong film. Thus an incongruous set of performances are delivered whose blame rests more on Banks’ direction that the actors’ execution.
Banks was clearly conscious of the environment that she was going to release this film, and she seems to litter her film with feminist messages and sexist situations. These would certainly have worked as commentary if they hadn’t been so on the nose and frequent. By the end of the first act one felt like they were watching a PSA instead of a feature film. The good intention by Banks was there, but she would have been much more effective with fewer but more poignant scenes that expressed sexism to the audience instead of explicitly lecturing them.
In the end, Charlie’s Angels is a bit of a letdown having such a great opportunity at creating a powerful feminist message. The film becomes muddled with indecisive tone and direction, as well as flitting between a PSA and a by-the-numbers studio film. No doubt young girls seeing the film will be inspired to them – given that there are little films in the market that show women as being physically self-sufficient – but the cinematic and narrative elements in Charlie’s Angels are not up to par.