Charlie’s Angels (2019)
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Screenwriters: Elizabeth Banks, Evan Spiliotopoulos, David Auburn
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart
In 2019, the Townsend Agency has gone global. There are Angels and Bosleys all over the world, using their female allure to do the work that law enforcement can’t.
A new gang of girls is introduced: Kristen Stewart is Sabina, a rich kid joker who went off the rails before being recruited; Ella Balinska is Jane, a tall and focused fighting machine who previously worked for Mi6; and their new client is Elena, played by Aladdin’s Naomi Scott, a programmer being hunted down because of her work on Calisto, a new sustainable form of energy that can be weaponised in the wrong hands.
Elizabeth Banks’ new version of Charlie’s Angels is very intent on informing us that ‘women can do anything’ – in fact, it’s the very first line of the movie. What follows is a near relentless barrage of ‘girl power’, mansplaining, running in heels and quips about uncomfortable bras. The core message here isn’t the problem; it’s the laboured and juvenile method in which it’s conveyed that gets in the way. We don’t need to hear Sabina tell us how it takes men an extra seven seconds to perceive women as a threat at the same time as she’s wrapping her legs around the bad guy, ready to teach him a lesson – him thinking that it’s all part of the foreplay should do the work to show us that.
The commercialised feminism of this new Charlie’s Angels feels like a prison the film has made for itself. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth that a women-led action movie seems to have to make an expertly delivered statement on equality to be deemed a success when there are countless male-fronted equivalents that are received well despite being so painfully average. But, if the wokeness hadn’t been crowbarred in so ineffectively, it wouldn’t be such a point of contention.
Whilst the tone can be offputting, it doesn’t detract entirely from some enjoyable elements – the biggest being that Stewart is having a whale of a time as the goofball, lovable rogue of the group. Plus, her character is undoubtedly queer, and there’s a great deal of satisfaction in seeing that representation so clearly, rather than as an additional piece of backstory that is never presented on screen.
The action set pieces largely work; the editing is overly choppy at times, but there are some interesting ideas that give a good sense of how women would actually fight. There’s not much directorial flair evident, but still some shots to admire – the bird’s eye views of a fight in the cafe and a toilet stall spring to mind, as does a frame of the Angels in a field after escaping from their assassin that plays nicely with the distance of the subjects from the camera. And, in amongst the mostly conventional storytelling, there are moments that subvert expectations, surprising you just enough to keep you invested.
Is Charlie’s Angels a masterpiece of cinematic art? No. Far from it.
Is it deserving of the negative feedback it has received? Mostly, yes.
But as the 12A rating flickers on screen, it helps to keep the target audience in mind. Young girls may love this movie, or may not, but its sickly sweet depiction of strong female leads is still an exponentially better story to tell them than the one where they’re nothing more than a love interest or damsel in distress, as audiences such as this one are so often exposed to elsewhere.
Boys have had these kinds of films for decades, and they’ve had the time to learn to make them in a way that feels mature, bold and artistic whilst also tapping into the childish essence at their core – just look at Marvel’s latest output. Female-fronted movies haven’t experienced that evolution yet; they haven’t had the chance. Charlie’s Angels is just another to add to the pot; a pot that should be allowed to be filled with movies of all kinds of calibre and quality.
Ultimately, whether you enjoy this latest reincarnation of Charlie’s Angels is likely down to how willing you are to give it a chance, and overlook its weaknesses to see the fun, frothy film that is bubbling underneath. Much like the film’s character Elena as she is exposed to this world of stylish secret agents, the movie is learning just enough to get its wings. If this cast was given another go, there’s plenty of room for them to fly.
By Sophie Butcher