CHARLIE’S ANGELS – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), Naomi Scott (Aladdin), Ella Balinska (Junction 9), Sam Claflin (Me Before You), Noah Centineo (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy), Patrick Stewart (X-Men)

Writer/Director: Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2)

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Release Date: 15th November (US), 29th November (UK)

In some ways, I kind of feel sorry for Sony Pictures. They’ve really, really been trying to launch and relaunch a whole bunch of blockbuster franchises, but still Spider-Man remains their only consistently reliable golden boy (and even he’s essentially a foster child that biological mother Marvel and her new sugar daddy Disney are fighting for custody over). After Men in Black International failed to light up the box office this past summer, Sony has spun their wheel of intellectual properties again and now we have a reboot of Charlie’s Angels. If you’ve seen the numbers of its US opening, you already know the story hasn’t ended well financially, but what about the film itself? Is this a misfire worthy of such a dismal performance, or are audiences sleeping on a franchise worth giving a fair shake?

Whilst the film acknowledges it takes place in the same continuity as the original TV series and the McG-directed films, the new Charlie’s Angels has had a makeover from the ground up and realigned itself for a more enlightened time. The overall mission statement of the film is solid, dropping much of the remaining male gaze aspects of the franchise and fully empowering its female protagonists through confidence and feminine bravado rather than pandering to the male audience. The comedic aspects of the 2000s films remain but have been suitably toned down, and when the film is focused on our characters exchanging banter and bonding as both friends and spies it really shows potential.

Where the film mainly falls apart is in its underwhelming storytelling, which is competently constructed but lacks any flair or depth. The potential for some interesting commentary on tech corporations and women in the workplace is left bare, and its major twist is a little too telegraphed to feel weighty. The characters and humour do just about enough to keep the plot chugging along, but the curtailed and anti-climactic third act puts a real damper on it all; it honestly comes across like they were building up to this really awesome climax and then just ran out of time or money. There’s a great Charlie’s Angels movie inside of this one, and its heart is certainly in the right place, but no film can coast on good intentions alone.

Charlie’s Angels as a franchise rests a lot on the chemistry and characterisation of its three leads, and in the case of the reboot…two out of three ain’t bad. Kristen Stewart is the clear MVP in this line-up, defining Sabina from her first frame with an infectious mix of effortlessly cool yet awkwardly relatable. Every line of dialogue that comes out of her mouth is an absolute gem, and her performance alone is what makes the film worth watching. Naomi Scott is an adorable delight as tech wiz Elena, bringing a much-needed naivety and grounding to a cast full of larger-than-life badasses, though it’s a shame her character is relatively underserved on the action side of things. Compared to these two queens, Ella Balinska as Jane feels unfortunately out of synch. It’s hard to stand out in the revenge-driven stoic role when your two co-stars are brimming with personality and wit, but even when she gets a chance to be funny it never comes off as genuine. It’s unclear whether the issue is ultimately the character as written or Balinska herself, but she’s unlikely to become anyone’s favourite Angel.

The decision to revamp the Boseley role from one character to a rank within the Townsend Agency is a clever move, and one that allows for several Boseleys to take to the stage. Elizabeth Banks (who also writes and directs the film) serves as the film’s principal Boseley and is her usual charming and quick-witted self. Whilst Djimon Hounsou unfortunately feels a little wasted as the French Boseley, Patrick Stewart as Boseley classic is…well, he’s Patrick Stewart, and that’s all I really need to say to let you know he’s having a blast. Sam Claflin and Noah Centineo are both quite fun in their role as Scott’s boss and co-worker respectively, though both are only featured sporadically throughout the plot. Cap it off with a variety of hit-and-miss cameos, and it’s fair to say the cast of Charlie’s Angels is a rollercoaster that cycles a variety of highs and lows.

When making an action comedy, you usually need to pick one genre to focus on and allow the other to mostly add flavour and keep things from getting homogenous. In what is probably the film’s biggest misstep, and despite having pretty solid comedic chops in both in front of and behind the camera, the film aspires to be a credible action flick first and foremost. Unfortunately, the results are professional but generally lack panache or innovation. A lot of it feels weightless and unimpactful, bogged down by inconsistent editing and uninspired choreography. It’s abundantly clear that Banks has never directed an action film before and, whilst you could charitably call it an admirable first attempt, it’s frankly embarrassing to compare it to even other recent films of its ilk like Paul Feig’s Spy or the Kingsman series. When you’ve got Bill Pope, cinematographer of the Matrix trilogy and a slew of other great action movies, shooting your film and even he can’t make the action look dynamic or interesting, your film is in desperate need of an experienced second unit director. Somewhat ironically, the film’s big technical saving grace is another Matrix alum in costume designer Kym Barrett, who expertly mixes style, impact and practicality to make this the most fashion-forward set of Angels yet; seriously, Stewart’s wardrobe and make-up alone is going to make her a style icon to a generation of queer girls who watch this movie.

In spite of its many, many flaws, Charlie’s Angels just about scrapes by as a disposable but enjoyable piece of popcorn fun thanks to its jocular energy, modern feminist viewpoint and the performances of Stewart and Scott. Banks is far from an incompetent filmmaker but she feels a little in over her head in the director’s chair, and either rebalancing the film’s focus to take advantage of her comedy strengths or trusting others to craft the action might have helped save the picture from the messy results. It’s unlikely to get a chance after its meagre box office takings, but there is a solid foundation here for the major female-led action franchise Hollywood needs right now, and the passion and drive for the concept is abundant. What it now needs to do is back up its aspirations and create something that is either completely different to anything else on the market, or can credibly challenge the male-driven competition on terms other than inclusivity.

FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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