Charlie’s Angels

Review by Charles Bramesco @intothecrevasse

Directed by

Elizabeth Banks

Starring

Ella Balinska Kristen Stewart Naomi Scott

Anticipation.

Kristen Stewart’s gonna cut loose, get a studio paycheque, and wear some fun outfits!

Enjoyment.

And that about sums up the merits of this motion picture.

In Retrospect.

Feminism promised us better studio tentpoles.

Kristen Stewart leads a squad of lethal female spies in the latest reboot of the ’70s TV sensation.

In a post-credits sequence featuring some inexplicable cameo appearances, including teen snowboarding sensation Chloe Kim, we learn that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was at one time a Charlie’s Angel. It’s a telling reference, nodding to a specific yet widespread strain of entry-level feminism that focuses on idols over ideas and surfaces over what lies beneath them.

This well-intended, ultimately unconvincing school of progressive thought – the mindset that emblazons upbeat sloganeering on t-shirts that then go for 20 pounds a pop – informs the umpteenth take on the franchise about foxy, lethal female spies. This time around, the Angels are leaning in, so much so that the film tips over.

Director Elizabeth Banks (pulling double duty on the other side of the camera as the trusty Bosley to a new wave of go-getter Angels) came to this project with a clear agenda of empowerment, an agreeable instinct put into practice in superficial and meaningless ways. We’re first acquainted with operatives Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska), each of them role models to the little girls that keep significantly cropping up all over the film.

They’re strong, confident, beautiful, and their perfection even extends to their non-flaw flaws: Sabina comes from money, which is apparently a cross to bear, and Jane has trouble “letting people in”. Neither of these are real complications of character, in the same respect that the aspirational fantasy of self-actualisation that they sell is not a real vision of thriving womanhood.

The third member of their #squad is everygal Elena, a systems engineer and the latest contribution to a recent trend of gender-parity-in-STEM-fields subtext. Her decision to blow the whistle on a potentially catastrophic defect in a vague Alexa-type doohickey manufactured by her tech whiz boss (Sam Claflin) gets her embroiled in the Angels’ latest globetrotting adventure, a predicament to which she adapts with shocking quickness.

Fleetingly mentioned krav maga training enables her to disable an opponent twice her size in hand-to-hand combat, mostly because she believes in herself, and she can hack computers with the best of them. (She even does the hacker thing, and says “I’m in” once she’s in.)

Her presence in the film communicates that anyone can be an Angel, indeed, that there’s an Angel in every woman already, waiting to be unleashed if only they can find their inner goddess or some such. The path she takes to her best self has no middle or stops along the way; a couple scenes elapse, and she’s suddenly a badass queen and wholly unrecognisable as a human person.

The ample pleasures of Stewart’s performance ought not to be downplayed, as she gamely takes on the roles of class cut-up as well as paper doll on which the costume designers can play dress-up. (Her gym shorts and French maid ensembles will trigger a generation’s worth of sexual awakenings for all genders.)

For an actress so well-trained in restraint and subtlety, she’s a real natural when it comes to delivering a laugh line, or just livening up a bit of business with some wild-card physicality. Though the story doesn’t frame it as such, she becomes the main character by virtue of being the production’s most famous name, and then earns it by being the most magnetic presence.

But she’s stranded in a film lacking the spikiness that makes her turn so diverting and her take on liberated not-giving-a-shit the closest to believability. Any enjoyment comes with a twinge of disappointment, as the flimsy politics undercut the commendable intentions behind them. As a director and producer, the space that Banks occupies in the industry leaves a similarly conflicted impression.

If we’ve got to have mediocre studio blockbusters, might as well bring a little diversity to the roster of people making them. But we’d all be much better off if feminism just got a new talent agent and started taking more worthy jobs.

Published 15 Nov 2019

Tags: Charlie’s Angels Elizabeth Banks Kristen Stewart Naomi Scott

Anticipation.

Kristen Stewart’s gonna cut loose, get a studio paycheque, and wear some fun outfits!

Enjoyment.

And that about sums up the merits of this motion picture.

In Retrospect.

Feminism promised us better studio tentpoles.

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