McCoy on Movies: Charlie’s Angels

McCoy on Movies: Charlie’s Angels

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It’s a feminist, uber-conscious update of the spy story and 1970s TV series, but is it worth the watch? Our movie critic has the scoop.

 

“Hey, what’s over there – is it the music video shoot we’re supposed to be in for the soundtrack?!” Townsend Agency agents Elena (Naomi Scott) and Sabina (Kristen Stewart) peer over into enemy territory with their newfound on-the-run client Jane (Ella Balinska) in a scene from writer/director/co-star Elizabeth Banks’ take on CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Credit: Nadja Klier © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Nat Faxon, Jonathan Tucker, Luis Gerardo Mendez, Sam Clafin, Djimon Hounsou and Sir Patrick StewartDIRECTOR(S): Elizabeth Banks

 
THE BACK STORY: The product of a screenplay from and directed by Elizabeth Banks (who also co-stars), the 2019 version of Charlie’s Angels stars Ella Balinska as Jane Karo, a developer at an energy company owned by Alexander Brok (Sam Clafin). Her invention could help revolutionize energy as we know it, which is why her boss Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) can’t wait to show it off despite the fatal flaw that could allow the project – codename Kalisto – to become weaponized. You see, Kalisto could be hacked to release a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP for short) in the wrong hands, which is why Jane wants to stop the project from going forward. Peter, however, has his own ideas and wants to get the product to market as soon as possible.

Jane, however, is about to have a bigger problem on her hands when in attempting to meet with a man named Bosley (Djimon Honsou), an assassin (Jonathan Tucker) tries to kill her. This leads to Jane meeting up with the rebellious Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and no-nonsense Elena (Naomi Scott), two female secret agents who work for the Townsend Agency – the same agency that employs Bosley … the soon-to-be-retiring Bosley (Patrick Stewart) … And the woman Jane will also come to know as Bosley (Banks). 

Confused? Well, you should be – it’s about to get a lot more complicated from here. And that’s why Jane’s guardian angels are about to try to save not only her life, but the world, too.
 
THE REVIEW: In the era of “woke” and “cancel” culture in the wake of the #MeToo movement, one might be inclined to see Charlie’s Angels as an example of empowerment in the action comedy genre. It could be taken as an attempt to show women being just as strong, sophisticated and stylish as their male counterparts with modern women in control of their careers, their bodies and life in general. There’s just one little problem with that, however, as it pertains to the film.In the quest for empowerment, Charlie’s Angels lacks a lot in the entertaining department and nearly ends up becoming at best a caricature of what it wishes to destroy in terms of the cinematic patriarchy and at its worst, an unmemorable movie.

Now, before one accuse yours truly of a blatant case of mainsplaining, let me simply point to the film’s opening scene as an example of empowerment run amuck: Stewart’s character is literally explaining to the audience why women are underestimated, unappreciated and generally taken for granted as underachievers. This is balanced out, of course, by a male antagonist so taken with her beauty, he must then via his substandard, terribly over-the-top dialogue explain why everything she is saying is basically wrong – only of course to get his comeuppance because Stewart’s seductive agent has been setting him up. Of course the audience knows it, but the film makes sure to spell it out for them because it wants to drive home the point of the entire 80 minute-plus experience: Women can do whatever and they’re gonna do it loud, brash and however they want.

Unfortunately, as the heavy handed scene also shows, in the case of Charlie’s Angels, they’re gonna hit you over the head with it at every possible turn.

Charlie’s Angels wants to be the ultimate badass female movie: It attempts to feature Stewart as a wise-cracking rebel who’s quick with her one-liners, the Rihanna-esque Scott as a … Rihanna-esque no nonsense agent (who is by far the most believable character) and Balinska as an awkward, fish out of water just trying to do the right thing. Problem is, Stewart feels like she’s doing her best imitation a female action movie hero and it’s never believable, Balinska’s fish out of water is so out of water it’s almost like a live-action cartoon a la The Simpsons and Scott feels like she’s overcompensating for the other two. None of the three characters are really developed beyond a simple explanation (“She grew up rough!” “She’s smart” “She’s smart and nerdy and awkward!”). The timing of the sexualization of their characters comes off a bit misplaced (“Let’s infiltrate this mansion … With a fully choreographed dance routine as part of our cover!”), the fight scenes are comical when meant to be serious and just silly when they meant to be comical and the heavy-handed storytelling makes sure to guide the audience instead of letting things play out more naturally.

Complicating matters further is the fact the jokes are (1) usually forced (2) usually stale and (3) just not working. The male characters are either complete bumbling morons to the point you can’t take any of them (save for Jonathan Tucker’s heavily tattooed assassin) seriously or so sleazy they might make Harvey Weinstein wince. Charlie’s Angels may go down as Stewart’s worst performance in eons. While his Bullock character on Seth McFarlane’s now exiled to TBS cartoon American Dad! is supposed to be a buffoon, the fact this character is supposed to be taken seriously is cartoonish in and of itself.

It doesn’t make for a great viewing experience outside of its target audience: Young women who want to see young women be heroes, no matter how ridiculous the story and how over-the-top pretty much everything else in the mix may be. In trying to be empowering, it almost comes off as egregious and does the very opposite of what it wishes to do for all audiences. Just like this year’s earlier action detective reboot Shaft (which had slightly better jokes … slightly), Charlie’s Angels just isn’t memorable as much as it is missable.

As a sign of very heavy foreshadowing, the music video for the lead single from the film’s soundtrack – the inane “Don’t Call Me Angel” by polarizing pop stars Lana Del Ray, Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus – is pretty much an entire encapsulation of the project: A group of artists begging people to take them seriously by exhibiting a ton of “I don’t need your approval” attitude … While falling into every negative trope of using overly and overtly sexual grinding, lip-biting possible in a desperate attempt for approval. Don’t believe me? Check out this lyrical wizardry for yourself:”Uh, don’t call me angel when I’m a mess,
Don’t call me angel when I get undressed,
You know I, I don’t like that, boy,
Uh, I make my money, and I write the checks,
So say my name with a little respect,
All my girls successful, and you’re just our guest”

 
Thus, much like the aforementioned song, Charlie’s Angels whole point seems to exist for the sake of simply extending a middle finger to the cinematic patriarchy … Which would be fine if it has deeper characters (it doesn’t), an interesting, rich story (absent), or just anything that felt original, fresh and inspiring (no dice). Instead, it comes off as maligned as when Poochie was introduced on The Simpsons‘ beloved cartoon-within-a-cartoon “Itchy & Scratchy” and with similar results
 
So, don’t call them angels if you like … But much like the aftermath of a bad date, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t just call, period. 
 
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN): 

 

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