REVIEW: 'Charlie's Angels' ditches old sexist tropes but lacks campy fun of predecessors

Wong Jia Min
Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott star in Charlie's Angels. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

SINGAPORE — This generation’s Charlie’s Angels is one that the eponymous Charlie Townsend would never have begun to dream about. For one thing, its reach is now international, and instead of one Bosley, there are now many Bosleys around the world training, mentoring, and recruiting Angels simultaneously. The movie begins when one Bosley (Patrick Stewart) retires, while another Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) puts together a new team of ass-kicking Angels.

Enter this movie’s trio of femme fatales. There’s Sabina (Kristen Stewart), an unlikely young heiress whose penchant for getting into trouble has led her to a life of living on the edge. There’s Jane (Ella Balinska), ex-MI6 agent. And then there’s Elena (Naomi Scott), a bright programmer turned whistleblower when she realises that the Callisto project she’s working on could be easily weaponised.

The Angels race against the clock to stop the bad guys from hacking into Callisto and turning it into the perfect weapon. Fights and fisticuffs ensue, explosions happen, the Angels learn how to work together, et cetera. It’s a tale almost as old as the spy movie genre itself.

Elizabeth Banks stars in "Charlie's Angels", as well as directed and wrote the film. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

As much as I liked the previous team of movie Angels (comprising Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu), the 2000 movie and its sequel relied far too much on tired sexist tropes that were already outdated and overplayed nearly 20 years ago. Stewart, Balinska and Scott are the Angels for a new generation, still dressed to the nines in shimmery sequinned dresses or in designer athleisure, but there is never any sense of competition or one-upmanship.

Stewart has mostly stuck to roles in indie arthouse movies post-Twilight, but here she takes a break and even looks like she’s having fun most of the time. This is one role where her deadpan delivery actually works, and she provides some of the movie’s more successful jokes. Balinska as Jane is a firecracker of a fighter, her tall frame making some of her moves look balletic even as she punches the living daylights out of henchmen. It is Scott’s Elena who feels the most like a cookie cutter character, yet another wide-eyed and naive protagonist caught up in the midst of a major international incident. For someone who graduated from MIT, Elena is surprisingly slow on the uptake, and this gets wearisome after a while.

The latest iteration of "Charlie's Angels" avoids the sexist stereotypes of yore. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

There is some hint that Charlie’s Angels was trying to be something much more than a reboot of a tired, old franchise. In light of the #MeToo movement, the Angels are dressed sexily, but are not really sexualised (save for the scenes where they are forced to seduce men while undercover). The jokes rely far more on quippy one-liners instead of bordering on sexual harassment, and there is some mention of a charitable organisation that caters to disadvantaged children and unwed mothers.

Unfortunately, while there is some attempt in the script to be more than just another spy movie, it’s largely just paying lip service. Executive producer, director and scriptwriter Elizabeth Banks inserts far too many jokes that not just fell flat, but were devoid of any of the campy fun that characterised previous entries in the franchise. The aforementioned charity is mentioned briefly before it’s discarded as just another plot point before the movie moves on.

In fact, the entire plot sags in the middle during the second act, and at least a good 15 to 20 minutes could have been cut to make the plot tighter. Charlie’s Angels only really gets into it in the third act when things really start heating up, which is a shame because it took far too long to get there. Still, it wraps things up a lot neater than in many other action movies.

The fight choreography is fast and furious, but also poorly edited with one of the shakier displays of camera work I’ve seen. The scenarios are a little old hat to spy movie aficionados, but the (inevitable) brawl in the abandoned warehouse was markedly more enjoyable than any other action sequences.

To the average viewer, Charlie’s Angels really doesn’t add anything new to the franchise, but with a female director in charge, there is a glimmer of something special that has real potential if more attention were paid to the script and story. Even with its many missteps, this is still a step in the right direction.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Charlie’s Angels opens in cinemas on

-13 November, 2019 (Philippines)

-14 November, 2019 (Singapore)