REVIEW: Charlie’s Angels [2019]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 118 minutes | Release Date: November 15th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Elizabeth Banks
Writer(s): Elizabeth Banks / Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn (story)

“Hugs work”

It’s been over fifteen years since Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle hit cinemas. That might not seem so long considering the first movie bowed almost twenty years after the television show went off the air, but TV reboots were all the rage back in the early ‘aughts. That extra time might have actually helped then because the fad’s key selling point was updating seventies-era properties with twenty-first century technology. Going from then until now, however, doesn’t quite hold the same demand for a “new look” as far as aesthetics are concerned. No, this return to the franchise must find its improvements via context instead. It’s about letting a woman take the reins (Elizabeth Banks is both director and screenwriter) to extricate the subject matter from its original male gaze.

She does exactly that with the very first scene of her Charlie’s Angels soft reboot/sequel. In it we watch as Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) weaponizes her flirtations to lull her mark (Chris Pang‘s Jonny Smith) into a pliable enough position to disorient and disarm him by way of sexually charged movements. Banks’ script throws in statistics (men need an extra seven seconds to recognize a threat posed by a woman than one from another man), dialogue that calls out archaic patriarchal norms (Jonny thinks women shouldn’t partake in manual labor occupations), and fast-paced fighting with Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) methodically mowing down a room full of bad guys like it’s no big deal. Its action, characterizations, and situational humor are specifically built with women in mind.

This is crucial because Banks is intentionally moving the Townsend Agency from its male-centric rule (with creators including Robert Clotworthy‘s speaker box Charlie and Patrick Stewart‘s John Bosley) to one that understands it’s nothing without the women in the field. The original Bosley is retiring after decades of service bringing the organization to where it is today with global reach and multiple “Bosleys” running point from their respective corners of the globe. (A digital scrapbook of photos shows Stewart’s face superimposed upon images depicting the original TV cast and others with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu to secure this chapter as a part of the already established continuity.) As head of the American field office, Banks’ own Bosley is ready to lead the charge moving forward.

Rather than have a team ready to go and protect someone in need of help, the film astutely doubles its client/victim as a potential new Angels recruit. Whether Banks doing or a product of Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn‘s respective drafts, this decision allows for a welcome reduction in cast size that allows for sharper focus. Bosley (a third version courtesy of Djimon Housou) heard Sabina and Jane worked well together a year earlier (the Jonny Smith ordeal) and has tasked them to run backup on his meeting with scientist/whistleblower Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott). She’s the lead engineer on a tech product set to revolutionize energy proliferation if she’s able to fix a coding backdoor that allows “Calisto” to be transformed into an untraceable deadly weapon.

There are three men that now must be taken into consideration: Elena’s boss Fleming (Nat Faxon), their company’s owner Alex Brock (Sam Claflin), and an as yet unknown assassin (Jonathan Tucker‘s creepily stoic Hodak). The latter is responsible for the carnage that forces Banks’ Bosley to Europe. She now must help Sabina and Jane as they work to keep Elena safe and reacquire the Calisto prototypes it seems Fleming has stolen to sell on the black market. As they plan how to do exactly that (with help from Luis Gerardo Méndez‘s Saint’s calming nature and closet of wartime toys), Elena begins to reclaim her bearings and attempt to flip her position as a liability into one where she becomes a necessary asset to her own survival and theirs.

So now we have our trio. Sabina is the loquaciously chaotic kind of awkward that delivers the best one-liners. Jane is the sociopathic kind of awkward whose sense of the literal creates humorous sight gags (there are some great moments where we see her in the background doing something crazy as the others stick to more sane pathways). And Elena is the newcomer who must learn on the fly (as are we) while she often stumbles blindly through each mission thanks to zero field experience. They’re the perfect comedic complements so that we simultaneously receive word vomit, straight man antics, and pratfalls during each fight scene. Slowly but surely they learn to rely on each other as a team by letting their mistakes make them stronger.

This comedy is Charlie’s Angels best attribute because it’s what maintains our attention when obvious plot twists and familiar narrative tropes risk losing it. The action isn’t too bad either, though, with every hero proving her willingness to take as much pain as she ultimately doles out. The chase sequences possess excitement and the hand-to-hand combat retains the personalities of its combatants. Stewart never stops talking while engaged in battle and Balinska revels in always having the upper hand even when it appears she’s getting beat. These are knock down drag out collisions that leave bumps and bruises thanks to Tucker’s Hodak being of the take-no-prisoners cloth with no qualms about punching women square in the face knowing they’ll be giving it back just as harsh.

While the women have fun (Stewart and Balinska love laughing at Scott’s cutely endearing ineptitude), the men embrace their characters’ doofiness. Faxon renders Fleming as the consummate smug idiot and Claflin steals scenes with an over-the-top, incredulously entitled energy that’s laugh-out-loud funny. These are the kinds of guys who look down on women as a rule and therefore make the Angels’ constant thwarting of their plans even sweeter. And Banks never tries hiding the social commentary in these dynamics since it’s very much the whole point (alongside a healthy dose of silliness and stupidity that leads towards bouts of hilarity). The women might skew towards stereotype to propel the plot forward, but they also inject enough authentic complexity to ensure we’re laughing with them rather than at them.


photography:
[1] Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott star in Charlie’s Angels. Photo By: Merie Weismiller Wallace © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[2] Patrick Stewart and Elizabeth Banks star in Charlie’s Angels. Photo By: NADJA KLIER © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[3] Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott and Kristen Stewart star in CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Photo By: NADJA KLIER © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

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