Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.
Release Date: November 15th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Elizabeth Banks Actors: Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Sam Claflin, Jonathan Tucker, Nat Faxon, Djimon Hounsou
t begins with a conversation about the roles of men and women in society – from the perspective of a ludicrously wealthy playboy hoping to turn a sexy female companion into arm-candy. And so, of course, after this typical display of male chauvinism, the tables are turned, revealing the flirty woman to be an undercover operative, quite capable of physically overwhelming her date and besting his fleet of armed bodyguards. And then it concludes with a big action sequence that poses absolutely no sense of danger – which is part of a pervasive problem throughout the entirety of the film. The message may be fine, but the execution is ridiculous.
It’s a man’s world, desperately in need of some playing-field leveling. This carries over into Hamburg, where Elena (Naomi Scott), the lead engineer for a technological breakthrough project called Calisto, can’t alert her superiors to programming flaws – primarily because she’s a woman. She’s frequently unappreciated, unrecognized, and ignored (or, worse, sexually harassed). Self-obsessed boss Peter (Nat Faxon) and Brok Industries CEO Alexander (Sam Claflin) aren’t interested in safety or misappropriation or her intelligence in general; they just want to prosper from headline-making innovation. So when Elena realizes the gravity of the coding deficiencies, which could be hijacked for covert assassination purposes, she decides to become a whistleblower, arranging to meet with one of the Townsend Agency’s lieutenants, named Bosley (Djimon Hounsou), who is aided by top operatives Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) – just two of the female special forces group collectively known as “Charlie’s Angels.”
Women can do anything; certainly anything a man can do. Or so the film suggests. Yet the Angels report to a lot of men, including the original Bosley 001 (Patrick Stewart), whose introductory retirement party resembles a music video, supplemented by a cheesy photo album gawking. Fortunately, there is a prominent female Bosley, #342 (Elizabeth Banks), who eventually takes charge of the hip lady spies, orchestrating their missions when identities are compromised. But that pesky problem of widespread levity remains, even as the predicaments reflect timely societal issues and modern themes. Realism is permanently absent, which is only worsened by the chief villain, a tattooed thug (Jonathan Tucker) who walks around like a Terminator, impervious to bodily harm, and unfurls an automatic Gatling gun from inside his armored Jeep.
Some of these situations might have been harrowing, were it not for the terrible action choreography and what appears to be a total lack of sensible stunts. Virtually every chase or fight is edited to obscure heavy-hitting contact or genuine athleticism. Shots either begin or end with a character about to complete some piece of martial arts mayhem, or the jumps, dives, and landings simply conclude offscreen. It’s painfully apparent that no attempt was made to have the main characters look as if they’re participating in the action. Instead, attention is paid to Sabina’s unprofessionalism, recklessness, and sarcasm, which substitute for comic relief, or the many sequences in which she’s designed to appear brainless, so as to accentuate Elena’s superior smarts. Every role in “Charlie’s Angels” is bland or stereotypical; the scripting is pitiful; and the chemistry is nonexistent, which greatly hurts all the sisterly bonding and important feminist sentiments.
Also problematic is the story itself, which sees the agents infiltrating, purloining, and rescuing with the utmost ease; these aren’t impossible missions, they’re effortless missions, posing so few threats that there’s always time for jokes, outfit changes, and even dance routines. And Calisto, the product everyone is killing or dying over, is a generic little polygonal box that can be weaponized into an electromagnetic pulse with the touch of a few buttons – a meaningless doomsday device. Still, a hint of fun might be found in the continual dispatching of hordes of enemies, which are all composed of men with guns who outnumber the Angels but can never outsmart or outmatch them.
Yet the silliness of limitless resources, a steady stream of comprehensive intel, globetrotting for the sake of scenic fantasies, black-market arms-dealer antagonists, and just-in-the-nick-of-time escapes from seemingly inescapable jams gets in the way of potentially more levelheaded spy movie tropes. These are the same pitfalls witnessed in men-based secret agent flicks, too, but audiences will surely be disappointed to see that writer/director Elizabeth Banks doesn’t try to make her female-oriented plot avoid them. Ultimately, “Charlie’s Angels” could have been something of an antithesis to the “Fast & Furious” movies, rather than an equivalent with a few more women in leading roles (they go so far as to steal a Lamborghini for a more fashionable ride). Formidable female superspies (and movies with a female ensemble cast or female empowerment themes, in general) deserve so much better than this. And perhaps the oddest part is that Patrick Stewart gets to steal the show with an almost random, throwaway one-liner (practically breaking character with his authentic amusement at a cinematic absurdity).
– Mike Massie