Charlie’s Angels review – an enjoyable mess with enough laughs for the franchise to survive

Charlies-Angels-Review-2019

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou. Directed by: Elizabeth Banks.

With news that it has already bombed in America, expectations that in her second directorial effort Elizabeth Banks had delivered a stinker of a blockbuster low have unfortunately been met.

Charlie’s Angels is a soft reboot / continuation of the TV Series that ran for five seasons from 1976 to 1981, the two film reboot directed by McG in 2000 and 2003, and ignoring the failed reboot TV series of 2011. This time, the Townsend Agency has expanded turning Bosley into a rank, and when two Angels Sabina Wilson and Jane Kano lose a Bosley protecting Elena Houghlin, they uncover a bigger conspiracy involving weaponised clean energy, tattooed assassins and a mole within their ranks.

Banks pulls quadruple duties on the film; writing, directing, producing and playing a Bosley within the film, and it’s clearly a project she’s passionate about. In recent times, Banks has become very vocal about the state of women in film, and taking the original girl power show and doing a new version seems to be very timely.

People hold the original two films directed by McG in very high regard, and frankly it’s a little confusing as to why; despite some fun moments, and good cameos, they were far from the best films in the world, unlike Mission: Impossible, which went from popular show to successful franchise by employing a revolving door of talent. This film takes, almost beat for beat, a plot point from Brian De Palma’s original M:I movie.

The main three actresses: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska do the best they can, and by and large are successful. Stewart gets the best role of the lot as Sabina, the wise cracking one, while Scott as the rookie manages to bring nuance to the wide eyes, though dumped with the duff stoic role Balinska manages to find deadpan humour to save her role from being “and the other one” that can happen.

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Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart and Gerardo Méndez in Charlies Angels.

Some of the action set pieces are enjoyable, a section set in a quarry is particularly fun, and there’s an interesting misdirect that would have been a better way to go than the one taken. Clearly, Banks is more interested in being a director talking about female empowerment than about crafting Kingsman style scrapes, and sometimes the action falls a little flat.

The biggest issue is that the script often falls into a form of “under-the-bus” style that can’t really be overlooked. Banks, in trying to make a film about women being on par with the boys, has made every man in the film a) an idiot b) the worst or c) both. All men demean women, underestimate women, and expect to win by being men. Now this isn’t entirely unfair, men are notorious for it, but in doing so, Banks’ film has fallen into the reverse of films of yore – maybe this is the point, that she’s doing to men what men did to women in films, but it feels a little tiresome after the third “why don’t you smile” sort of jibe.

Even so, the film is fun, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, even as the trotting goes global and the inevitable smackdowns happen, there’s a level of fun, although there’s not enough confidence to just be weirder, after all even the McG films had Cameron Diaz licking bird poo, Carrie Fisher as a Nun and John Cleese as Lucy Liu’s father.

There’s flashes of something, the comedic possibility of Naomi Scott not being spy material, a horse chase, a dust-up in a toilet cubicle but there’s no focus, there’s no time to breathe with the film and enjoy the more offbeat moments, like awkward flirtations.

Moreover, there’s an interesting implication that Kristen Stewart’s role might be an LGBT one, but it is quickly and annoyingly ignored and despite prominent hand-holding on the poster with Naomi Scott there is nothing to imply LGBT relations – which is a shame for a film being so progressive it lacks that element.

This isn’t the dumpster fire people have made out, it’s enjoyable and for its flaws and heavy-handed branding it will provide people with a girl-power movie that is also big on laughs. People will enjoy it, it’s not dour or too self-serious and by the end there’s a feeling that a sequel could build to an interesting franchise, but Banks needs to become more confident with her camera, let it rove, let it fly, and maybe not take pot shots at moviegoers when a movie doesn’t do as well as one would hope – after all, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel didn’t make millions by women alone.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.