IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 118 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A team of Angels led by senior operative John Bosley capture international embezzler Jonny Smith in Rio de Janeiro and turn him over to American authorities, after which Bosley retires. A year later, the European division of the Townsend Agency is informed that Elena Houghlin, an engineer and programmer employed by entrepreneur Alexander Brock, wants to expose her superiors, namely Brock’s head of development, Peter Fleming, for covering up how an energy conservation device that she helped invent named Calisto has the potential to trigger fatal seizures. Angels Jane and Sabina are sent to bring her in, but haven’t realised what they’re up against….
Well the trailer wasn’t exactly promising. It made the movie it was attempting to sell look thoroughly bland and uninteresting, though I guess it worked as a sort of social barometer of how badly things have deteriorated in less than 20 years – the 2000s remake – “everything’s fun and sexy!” versus 2019 – “everything sucks and men are evil!” And then it tanked in the US, prompting director, writer and co-star Elizabeth Banks to show her bigoted sexism by blaming an entire gender for its failure, clearly not realising that her film wasn’t attracting women [supposedly the target audience] either. But then this was also the clueless idiot who once whinged about the director of The Sugarland Express and The Color Purple for never making a film with a female leading character despite the fact that his then-most recent movie The BFG had a female leading character, plus a script by a female writer to boot. Of course it’s probably best to just try to laugh at such stuff and attempt to concentrate on the movie at hand, but with something like Charlie’s Angels it’s almost impossible to ignore the nasty and dangerous [women are not equal to men, women are better than men] ideology behind it. The odd thing is that the film would almost [I say almost] be quite reasonable if it didn’t have this horrible messaging. I’m sure that my readers and indeed my fellow HCF reviewers were expecting me to totally trash it, but actually there are periods when it’s a reasonably pleasant experience.
The three leads have chemistry together and look good throughout, whether sneaking in and out of places, kicking ass or just sporting different outfits. The storyline does seem to at least make some attempt to surprise, even though one twist came as no surprise to me remembering the agenda behind the film. The two hours speed by. Unfortunately every now and again Banks’s malicious attitudes come bouncing back, causing eye rolling at the least and full on anger at the most. If you think that I’m exaggerating, then think on this. If somebody made a film today where all the women in it were bad, stupid or dead, and where all the men were superior in every way, then there would be an outcry. And that outcry would be warranted. But because it’s the other way round, the armies of militant keyboard snowflakes are silent about this and several other nefarious Hollywood efforts which don’t seem to preach equality but instead try to ram home the message that one sex is so very superior to the other. Funny that. The earlier Charlie’s Angels efforts were hardly classics of any kind, and the second one was such a mess it’s hard to believe it made its way onto the screen in the form that it did, though I’ll defend the first one as an okay piece of dumb fun. But you know what? They nailed female empowerment, primarily because they didn’t make a huge fuss about it. It had strong, stable, skilled women who smashed crime and evil wherever they went, but didn’t feel the need to make jabs at one entire sex. But such subtlety [god I never though I’d be using the word “subtlety” to describe a Charlie’s Angels movie] obviously isn’t always felt required by the likes of Banks.
Maybe I’m sounding like I’m taking things far too seriously and need to write more about the actual film? Well, let me describe the opening sequence to you. We’re in Rio De Janeiro, where Angel Sabina Wilson is flirting with her mark, Jonny Smith. He makes unpleasant, sexist remarks about women, and she responds with stuff about how women can do more than the limited things men allow them to do, how beautiful women aren’t usually required to be anything else but beautiful, etc. One can agree with all this, but Jesus Banks – this is 2019, things have moved on a hell of a lot – not that you’d expect people like Banks to admit anything like that. Surely most viewers would already know what is being rammed down their throats here? Sabina then slowly shows him some of her particular skills by subduing Smith with the curtains. Just before his bodyguards get to her, Sabina is joined by fellow Angel Jane Kano, and the two proceed to fight the goons before they are met by their boss John Bosley, who commends them on their work. Then we get a bizarre [or maybe not, knowing the mindset behind it] title sequence where young girls and women are shown doing various sporty activities. Is Banks so dim as to think that men need reminding that, you know, women can do physical activities [the answer I assume is yes]? Admittedly after this low point things are rarely quite as cringe inducing again until a truly horrible moment right at the end. Bosley then has his retiring party, after which we switch to Elena Houghlin, whose contribution to inventing energy conserving technology has been dismissed by the head of development, Peter Fleming. The trouble is, it’s also dangerous, but nobody will listen – well, nobody except the Townsend Agency.
There’s a scene in a cafe where Elena meets with the new Bosley to turn over her findings while Jane and an assassin named Hodak converge on them. The attempt to build up some suspense is ruined by terrible editing choices and shot sequencing resulting in a jarring mess, showing Banks’s ineptitude at this sort of thing. Then Hodak kills Edgar, leaving operative Rebekah to become a third Bosley, because, of course, we can’t have men telling women what to do now can we? Rebekah tells Jane and Sabina, joined by Elena who begins to enjoy this Angel business, to steal the remaining Calisto prototypes before they can be duplicated, but could it be that, despite all their jet setting from country to country, they don’t know who all the bad folk actually are? One thing that’s a nice change from the earlier movies is that these three Angels are working together for the first time. Out of the three, Kristen Stewart, looking like she’s truly having fun on screen for maybe the first time, shines best as punky posh kid Sabina, even though she’s saddled with some of the weakest dialogue. But Ella Balinska as the humourlessly efficient ex-spy Jane and Naomi Scott as formerly put upon, timid computer whizz Elena are both also fine. In a way the film is very much about Elena’s journey, and Scott’s hugely likable presence ensures that we’re behind her all the way. And by the way, for those of you who were disappointed that Disney’s recent remake of Aladdin was missing a particular Jasmine costume change, Scott amusingly makes up for it here. The other standout in the cast is Patrick Stewart, who’s admirably deadpan before going full ham later on, though Luis Gerardo Méndez and Sam Clafin are fun in engagingly quirky supporting roles that could have been larger. But many of the intended laughs don’t land, the filmmakers seeming to be under the impression that having a shed-load of cameos at the end makes up for having a so-called comedy where the so-called jokes are almost as flat as those in the Ghostbusters remake.
Banks can’t help but give us a fairly good looking movie going by all the outfits and locations, but she doesn’t even possess McG’s occasional eye for good visuals. There are a fair few fights and car chases, perhaps the best being a brawl on a factory conveyor belt, but sadly Banks [though editor Alan Baumgarten is probably as much to blame for what we see, or rather don’t see] is either another one of those filmmakers who seems to think that action that we can actually follow properly is old fashioned and boring, or one of those filmmakers who can’t be bothered to train their cast because he/she thinks that hyper fast editing will hide said fact. Despite the eye-hurting speed of the cutting, there are shots where it’s easy to spot some of the doubles and tell that little actual martial arts is actually on display. Overall there’s an attempt to be more grounded than the other films, but not much of an attempt to make up for the lack of their campiness and general feeling of excess [though part of the plot is very familiar if you remember how things in both of those]. I’d have thought that they might have turned a bit more to the original TV series for inspiration, but no doubt Banks considers that to be horribly sexist so of course that was never going to leaned on, silly me for even thinking such a thing! The hiphop/r&b songs were excruciating to my old ears [why is every single singer required to sound the same?], though Brian Tyler’s vibrant, sometimes retro [without really rubbing it in] score helps to keep things moving forward nicely. It’s all just rather bland and ”meh”. The ingredients are there for a real fun romp, and there are times when the film does threaten to get quite good, usually when the gals are just hanging out and getting to know each other [I really liked these three characters], but it never quite ignites. There have been worse would-be blockbusters that have come out this year though.
But I think its huge commercial disappointment should be taken note of, and by that I don’t mean more crapping on men [I’m all for an equal balance between the sexes – but not this hate-filled ‘one sex is superior to another’ bilge]. So far we’ve had several attempts at resurrecting franchises with woke politics that have crashed and burned. Of course it’s possible that they may have flopped anyway, but this new agenda certainly hasn’t helped, with men understandably feeling emasculated and even offended, and women not enjoying being patronised by this garbage. Will Hollywood one day get the message that this is hurting them financially as well as culturally? It’s odd that Universal should now take on Banks’s The Invisible Woman in which she writes, directs and stars, until you realise that she’d have probably accused Universal of sexism if they didn’t back the project. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s about her character using invisibility to get back at the evil patriarchy. It will be interesting to see how the new 007 movie fares, in a series in which its hero has already been relegated to being little more than a conventional action hero because due to political correctness he’s lost some of the characteristics that make him James Bond. Somehow I think that it will do disappointing business. Anyway, for the time being Charlie’s Angels isn’t quite as bad as all that and does offer a few scant pleasures – if you can stand what’s behind it.