Heaven Can Wait: Our Review of ‘Charlie’s Angels’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - November 18, 2019
Heaven Can Wait: Our Review of ‘Charlie’s Angels’

When the latest iteration of Charlie’s Angels was being introduced at the advance screening I attended last week, the speaker asked how many of us had seen the original Charlie’s Angels – referring to the hit 2000s movie series, not the 1970s television show where this entire thing started. We are officially in a hall of mirrors of nostalgia, ladies and gentlemen.

Not that I’m one to talk or anything. My only familiarity with this brand is through the previous film series as well – the show being a relic from another time, filled with all the problematic gender stereotypes that a cheesy show about three women unquestionably doing the bidding of a mysterious man who calls them “angels” would be expected to have. The McG-directed entries tried to reset the record, leaning into the campy sexism with a ton of self-awareness and hyperkinetic music video style, as well as a trio of leading ladies that kicked tons of ass and were clearly having a ball doing so. The not-so-discerning teenage film fan that I was at the time was a big fan.

But even those films are starting to feel like relics, as so much early-2000s era entertainment is. For all the female empowerment that Diaz, Barrymore, and Liu brought to Charlie’s Angels, they were still pretty much exclusively written and directed by men (there’s one female co-writer credited on Full Throttle) and that thick male gaze is felt pretty strongly throughout. Add in some borderline jokes and a heap of prettttty bad cultural appropriation (Drew Barrymore in brownface, anyone?), and it looks like a reboot could actually be what the doctor ordered. So it’s definitely refreshing to see this concept tackled from a completely female perspective, as Elizabeth Banks takes over as writer, director and even starring as the new Bosley to try and breathe new life into outdated tropes.

In this new Charlie’s Angels, the Townsend Agency is now a worldwide spy organization with multiple agents and Bosleys all over the world. The legendary John Bosley who successfully expanded the agency (played by Patrick Stewart, of course) is finally retiring, however, leaving the reigns to a new Bosley (Banks), now tasked with overseeing two of the most dynamic angels, rough-around-the-edges hellraiser Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and the more controlled, athletic warrior Jane (newcomer Ella Balinska). When a dangerous new power source falls into the wrong hands, they recruit a young whistleblower named Elena (Naomi Scott) from the shady tech company that produced it to round out the trio and prevent the destruction of the free world.

As in the previous films, the plot isn’t really the focal point here – it’s more about the level of fun being had. And in that respect, the new Charlie’s Angels isn’t bad, with Banks crafting a propulsive, enjoyable thrill ride that has more heart than you’d expect compared to so many other soulless board-room tested franchise flicks. And in her leads, she’s found three actresses who, while not erasing the memories of the previous three Angels, more than make their own mark on the roles. Stewart makes a welcome return to tentpole flicks, using her weird energy to liven up standard-issue dialogue after building up a ton of arthouse cred in the last several years. Balinska proves to be an action dynamo worthy of her own franchise, while showing off some cheeky humour to match. And after making a big screen impression earlier this year in Aladdin, Naomi Scott brings the goofy charm as a buttoned-down lab technician who is suddenly in over her head but eager to get involved nonetheless. Despite a somewhat rushed and shaky set-up, the three actresses develop a warm camaraderie that could easily be expanded on in future installments.

What’s missing is the over-the-top flashiness and crazy wire-work fights that defined McG’s tenure with the franchise, as Banks directs in the more standard-issue, television style that the majority of contemporary blockbusters opt for. There are some interesting flourishes here and there, however, including an imaginative heist sequence at Elena’s lab that becomes an M.C. Escher-esque visual exercise, showcasing what Banks could do as a director if unshackled from the constraints of studio banality.

A hasty climax and the lack of any formidable villains also hurts somewhat. Mostly, there just isn’t any bad guy or henchmen who approaches the delightful weirdness of Crispin Glover’s shrieking, hair-sniffing Thin Man, even though they try with Jonathan Tucker’s similarly silent, but ultimately personality-less, assassin.

But the Angels themselves are still alive and well, transcending the typical strappings that come along with a reboot-origin story to leave us craving further adventures. There are also some fun call-backs to the previous films that allow for opportunities to expand the mythology of this world. If the ante can just be upped and some more colourful antagonists inserted into the next one, we could have a real high-octane blast on our hands.’

This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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